Benjamin Britten’s adaption of Henry James’ novella The Turn of the Screw presents a number of challenges to any director, not least due to some of the themes to which it alludes, including child abuse and the Victorian idea of female hysteria.
In his revival for Opera North, Alessandro Talevi deals with these issues by cloaking his production in a kind of a dreamlike state, where the audience is never certain what’s real and what isn’t: a rocking horse rocks back and forth on its own, ghostly figures appear at a giant window, then disappear. By the time young Miles performs an interpretive dance, or his sister Flora puts on a puppet show, the audience feel as if they’re descending into madness right alongside the long-suffering Governess.
It’s that uneasy, tense atmosphere that makes this Turn of the Screw such a compelling watch: Madeleine Boyd’s set is a magnificent creation, perfectly recreating the isolated country house, and placing the Governess’ bedroom dead centre. On stage for almost the entire running time, Sarah Tynan is an excellent Governess, her soprano hinting at a whole wave of vulnerability, while Nicholas Watts is a suitably creepy Quint.
At just age 11, Tim Gasiorek gives a remarkably assured Opera North debut as the doomed Miles – his scenes with Tynan are unsettling but very effective. Leo McFall’s orchestra gives Britten’s score an extra eerie edge, all clattering percussion and fragile piano chords.
This production of Britten’s opera is challenging at times, but its air of restrained menace is effective and memorable.