Edward Dick’s production of The Turn of the Screw for OperaUpClose is everything that small-scale opera should be: a tightly-controlled and brilliantly thought-through concept that allows us to see and hear a great work in a totally new light. Britten’s spooky masterpiece doesn’t necessarily need the cobwebs blown from it but Dick’s modern dress interpretation serves up new ideas right to the end while ratcheting up the tension to an almost unbearable degree.
The singing’s pretty good too. Presided over by Laura Casey’s dysfunctional Mrs Grose, a gallumphing big baby, this Bly House is a madhouse, with Katie Bird’s superb Governess beginning as a crumpled patient to David Menezes’s Prologue/psychiatrist. Her behaviour is erratic as soon as she arrives to tutor the two children (Eleanor Burke and Samuel Woof on the night I attended, both astonishingly good). She strangely caresses the chair that will soon become her anchor, a concrete reality as her grip on things fades away. She then falls apart magnificently in the 14th Variation, followed by a shocking and unexpected denouement.
Both vocally strong, Menezes returns as a shady Quint and Catrine Kirkman is a sleek Miss Jessell, lurking behind gauze and dodging the shadows. Cast in the role of baddies by a fevered imagination, they are projections of the Governess’s mind, voices in her head that push her over the edge.
Housing the opera in a tight white skin with slots for doors is a stroke of genius. There may be a loss of Victorian gothic creepiness in Signe Beckmann’s modern setting but there’s something quite disturbing in this clinical dissection of disintegration, with Richard Bleasdale’s fleeting monochrome projections and Richard Howell’s murky lighting adding eerieness.
On piano, the sole accompaniment, David Eaton tends to bang out this most delicate of scores but it still sounds mighty good; like the whole production it breathes freshness into the work.
A strong recommendation then for OperaUpClose’s first foray into the Britten repertoire; as powerful a performance of The Turn of the Screw as you’re likely to see and a production that really raises their game.
- Simon Thomas