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The Turn of the Screw review at Bury Court, Farnham – ‘starkly theatrical production of Britten’s bewitching opera’

Bury Court Opera's The Turn of the Screw. Photo: Robert Workman
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It is surprising that Bury Court Opera has waited until its final season to stage The Turn of the Screw: the company’s restored threshing barn provides an ideal environment for Britten’s opera.

Crucial to the impact of Ella Marchment’s production, set by Holly Pigott in the era of Henry James’ original novella, is Ben Pickersgill’s lighting. Gaslights gutter and chiaroscuro effects heighten the overt theatricality – and shock value – of the ghostly comings and goings.

In Act I, the build-up of tension, with conductor Paul Wingfield drawing almost tactile instrumental sonorities from the Chroma Ensemble, is faultless. In Act II, the staging, like the opera itself, occasionally fragments into freneticism.

Setting the mood in the starkly spotlit Prologue is the lithe, clarion-voiced Andrew Dickinson, swinging his cape like a vampiric master of ceremonies. Later, still sinister but differently mannered as Peter Quint, he makes the humanity and vulnerability of the Governess (Alison Rose), Mrs Grose (Emily Gray) and Miles (Harry Hetherington) all the more apparent.

Rose, looking little older than Jennifer Clark’s precise, self-assured Flora, spins pearly tone and eschews histrionics as she disintegrates before our eyes. Gray, with her powerful, honeyed mezzo, bring unusual expressivity and intensity to the housekeeper, who seems to have a crush on the Governess.

Hetherington can move like a dancer, but his body language leaves no doubt that Miles is a damaged child. His singing, at times under-projected, is consistently true. Daisy Brown’s lyrically voiced Miss Jessel is no zombie, but a sensual young woman who, as Flora shows us with her dolls, happens to have met a watery grave.

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Starkly theatrical production of Britten’s disturbing yet bewitching opera