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Review: A brilliantly creepy Turn Of The Screw

Daylight fades and horror creeps in: Ellen Willmer as Flora PICTURES: JOHAN PERSSON


The Turn Of The Screw

Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, until June 30 ★★★★☆

A NEUROTIC governess, left alone to care for two strange children. Whispered tales of cruelty, seduction, corruption. Horrors around every corner… Benjamin Britten’s Turn Of The Screw is a masterpiece of gothic ambiguity, and it gets a superb and chilling new production at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre.

It’s an inspired choice for the first collaboration — let’s hope the first of many — between Regent’s Park and English National Opera. Britten’s opera calls for a small cast of just six singers and an orchestra of thirteen players, and is thus ideal for a theatre company making a first foray into opera.

Figment of imagination? Elin Pritchard, right, as Miss Jessel

With no orchestra pit here, the ensemble is partially hidden behind the rusty ironwork of Soutra Gilmour’s set (a dilapidated conservatory next to a lake), but the excellent amplification means every detail is heard with clarity. Nick Lidster’s clever sound design is also used creatively for the ghostly characters Peter Quint and Miss Jessel, whose voices sometimes appear to float from nowhere over the stage and audience.

Director Timothy Sheader draws detailed acting from the cast, and does especially fine work with the children, who always remain the right side of creepiness in their unsettling behaviour. In a double-cast show, I saw Daniel Alexander Sidhom as Miles and Elen Willmer as Flora, and both were vocally and theatrically impressive.

‘You see I am bad’: Daniel Alexander Sidhom as Miles

There were no weak links among the adults either, with Anita Watson (The Governess), Janis Kelly (Mrs Grose), Elgan Llŷr Thomas (Peter Quint) and Elin Pritchard (Miss Jessel) all as good musically as they were dramatically.

There’s a tiny let-up in tension in Act 2, and the ending doesn’t quite pack the punch it often does. But these are quibbles in an otherwise gripping account, which marks Sheader (who has formerly directed musicals) as a dazzling new operatic talent.