The Turn of the Screw
Seattle Shakespeare Company
January 13 – January 31, 2009
Henry James’ terrifying classic ghost story, The Turn of the Screw (written in 1898) has come to life in many forms. The story has sparked films such as The Innocents, The Nightcomers, In a Dark Place and Turn. Benjamin Britten’s opera The Turn of the Screw has been critically acclaimed since its premier in 1954 and was performed at the Seattle Opera’s Young Artists program in 2006. There has even been a ballet by William Tuckett of this chilling story of reborn lust, abuse and one woman who has to take it all on alone.
John Bogart and Jennifer Sue Johnson. Photo by John Ulman.
Before discussing the production itself, I would like to spend a moment on Jeffery Hatcher, the translator and adaptor of both of Seattle Shakespeare’s current shows. He has worked on and off-Broadway with his adaptation of Tuesdays with Morrie (with Mitch Albom) and many other shows such as Worksong (with Eric Simonson) and Smash based on a George Bernard Shaw novel An Unsocial Socialist. His adaptation of The Turn of the Screw (I cannot speak for The Servant of Two Masters for I have not yet had the pleasure of seeing it) is an amazing feat of textual juggling. In his script, there is a man and a woman. The woman (Jennifer Sue Johnson) plays the Governess assigned to watch over the children Flora and Miles. The man (John Bogart) plays the bachelor who sends her to his niece and nephew, the maid, Mrs. Grose, the boy Miles and the narrator.
Bogart’s switching among the four characters he juggles is amazing. There is never a moment when one wonders who he is at any given moment. The slightest adjustment in his physical presence make it known who he is at any time. Similarly, Johnson’s performance and transformation throughout the show is incredible to watch. As the Governess has to take on more and more of the terror that is the haunted mansion, Johnson’s transformation is palpable. Rita Giomi is much to thank for the magnificent nature of this production. Her direction brought this much beloved and feared story to life in a new way that will chill the audiences.
Technically speaking the show is beautiful from beginning to end. The doubling set (Jason Phillips) is used for both The Turn of the Screw and The Servant of Two Masters and it does its job with grace and practicality. In a city where overzealous sets often cloud the horizon so much that one can hardly see the play that’s happening on stage, Phillips’ set sets the scene, conveys the message and functions wonderfully to house the world of James story as seen through the eyes of Hatcher and Giomi.
Review by Nigel Andrews