The Turn of the Screw, by Box Tale Soup theatre company, is an adaptation of the famous Henry James novella – which combines human and puppet performances to bring this gothic horror story to life. It tells of a governess charged with looking after two small children, in the isolated country estate of Bly House. She is charmed at first by her surroundings, until sinister figures appear, with the intent of corrupting the children as the governess battles to save them.
A two-hander, the show is performed by Antonia Christophers as the governess, and Noel Byrne – who portrays the silent manifestations, voices the puppet characters, and performs the majority of the puppetry itself. Both Byrne and Christophers give strong performances, particularly noticeable when Christophers interacts with the children, and it is surprising how quickly you can forget that the majority of the characters are simply puppets. Byrne’s vocal work is also excellent, giving speech to the children and the housekeeper.
The puppets are beautifully crafted; they have limited, uncomplicated movement that is deftly maneuverered, and never feels restricted. When the performers pass the puppets between them, they do so seamlessly. The mostly monochrome costumes are well-thought-out and add greatly to the gothic atmosphere, with Byrne’s costume especially effective in the transformations used to portray the different characters.
The minimalist set moves after almost every scene, which at times seems a little excessive and unnecessary. But on several occasions the set changes to startling effect, such as when it turns into a staircase. Overall the production values are excellent and the whole performance is superbly choreographed.
We, the audience, are never fully aware of exactly what is going on: there are no quick or easy answers. While this can be a little frustrating, it is precisely the point of James’ novella – and this show is an engagingly faithful adaptation. Personally, I find puppets somewhat creepy, which makes them especially effective at moments when the children are in peril. Their use helps ramp up the tension in ways a more traditional adaptation could not do; the show manages to build and maintain its tense and fraught atmosphere throughout.
The Turn of the Screw is both wonderfully designed and excellently performed. Creepy and tense, this is an imaginative and thoughtful adaptation that will delight fans of the gothic and macabre.