The Almeida Theater’s bloggers’ evenings have been a great outreach program, making it possible for a small, changing group of dedicated theater junkies to see shows together on quieter nights and have extremely animated conversations with each other. It supports the community and gives us a chance to get together as a community (rather than by ones and twos) and interact with each other. I’m grateful for it; most bloggers buy all of their own tickets and getting a free one is a real treat, but the evenings themselves are fun because it’s great to see so many people that I may not have met in person before.
Anyway, I was interested enough by the Almeida’s production of Turn of the Screw that I was planning on going anyway, and I’m pleased to announce that it is a solid night’s entertainment that delivers good value on the ticket price (and, being the Almeida, they have a very wide range of prices, from £8 to £32). I didn’t know anything about the story, honest, only that I had some kind of idea it involved a governess and some kind of ghosty goings on. I had a weak memory of an operatic version that made me think children were involved, possibly as ghosts … it was all very vague, and THAT’S HOW I LIKE IT. I mean, seriously, how spooky can a supernatural styley play be if you already know what’s going to happen? And that makes it hard to write a review, too, because I don’t want to spoil it for you.
Right, so: there is a governess (Anna Madeley). There is a twist that is utterly vital at the beginning of the play to making any of this make sense: she is under no circumstance to contact the man who is paying her to do this job. BUT WHAT IS GOING ON? You know at the beginning something happened to the previous governess. BUT WHAT? And is it going to happen to her?
It’s pretty clear from the way the stage is set up that there are lots of nice places for spooky going ons to happen, what with the GIANT WINDOW in the middle of the wall behind the set (thrust far forward so it can rotate and we can have set changes happening behind the bit we’re currently watching). And the EE EE EE! factor is cranked up by the use of creepy music and projections of flapping bats during scene changes. Happily this is mostly very effective in getting the audience cranked up to a mild screaming pitch, and despite the obvious THERE MUST BE A GHOST IN THE WINDOW set up, the designer/director also included all sorts of stuff I would have never anticipated (though I occasionally missed some of it due to looking here and there trying to figure out what was going on, or deliberately looking away because I didn’t want to jump in my seat and knock my program onto the head of the man sitting in front of me).
Now, I will complain a bit, because by the second act we have moved well beyond mild fright and were in a position where we were basically having ghosts on stage all of the time, and I had to wonder: is this what they wanted? Is this where it became a psychodrama? I never entirely was sure what to make of it, but the shock factor of a looming presence was never really matched by someone just marching around on stage while a whirly blue light was shone on them. And this meant at the end, well, I had kind of lost my ability to be frightened. But I still had a very good time, and I walked out with questions to ask myself that weren’t about the scenery, but underneath it all I had to wonder: now, seriously, would anyone have taken the order to not call the uncle given the circumstances? THAT was a mystery to chew over. But it was a fun night and a much better time than I had sitting through some ridiculous kumbaya crap at the National; three cheers for solid entertainment and NO DEEP LESSON TO TAKE HOME thank you!
(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, January 29th, 2013. Performances continue through March 16th.)