Rebecca Lenkiewicz's new stage adaption of Henry James' novel stars Anna Madeley and Gemma Jones. Other cast includes Caroline Bartleet, Laurence Belcher, Eoin Eoghegan, Orlando Wells and Isabella Blake, Emilia Jones and Lucy Morton who alternate the role of Flora.
Running as part of Michael Attenborough's final season as artistic director of the Almeida, the play tells the story of a new governess, who arrives at a remote estate in Bly to care for Miles and Flora. Wild but angelic they charm their guardian with flowers, poetry and song. But as she grows to love her two wards, figures appear in the darkness outside and the corners of the house are haunted by those that have gone before. The Governess must confront her fear and protect the children from the alarming dangers that surround them.
It runs at the Almeida Theatre until 16 March.
Lindsay Posner's tentative production...doesn't go where he really wants to... It starts promisingly enough... but it meanders on like an old-fashioned West End performance of misdirected passion, with Anna Madeley’s governess far too wooden a reactor... There are good Almeida touches: the green, overall design by Peter McKintosh, using the always surprise Almeida revolve quite brilliantly, a spooky soundtrack composed by Gary Yershon, executed by John Leonard, Gemma Jones wonderful as the fussing Mrs Grose... A more committed adaptation of this story would have found contemporary parallels with education principles and juvenile sexuality, and perhaps cast both children differently; Emilia Jones' deadpan Flora (one of three sharing the role) is a little too "Italia Conti." The show is a naughty, ghostly period piece, but not raunchy enough to justify any serious contemporary reconsideration.
Losing the unreliable first-person narration and the ability of prose to delegate much to the mind's eye of the reader, any theatrical make-over has to make tricky decisions about what it visualised and why. These problems are not well-handled in this new Almeida version, adapted by Rebecca Lenkiewicz and directed by Lindsay Posner's in a production which... is intent on making you jump out of your seat with such effects as phantom squeaking chalk in the school-room... Anna Madeley is given the thankless task of playing an anti-heroine whose sexual repression has been rendered risibly over-explicit... Laurence Belcher and Emilia Jones...are very good at projecting the worryingly enigmatic precocity of the children... But the audience feels barely a requisite flicker of suspicion that Miles and Flora are in secret and dangerous cahoots with the dead.
Be fair. Forget the hinted horrors and ambiguities of Henry James’ novel... Accept this free adaptation by Rebecca Lenkiewicz on its own terms... Recognise how conveniently this out-of-copyright tale suits modern worries about sexualised children, admit that director Lindsay Posner does good stage shocks and Peter McKintosh a fine revolving set with spooky turrets, and that John Leonard’s soundscape of thunder, weird music and noises like blackboard-chalk... is of Almeida quality. But it’s still pretty awful... There are some nice early moments for the children... Laurence Belcher is competent as Miles... poor Madeley has to negotiate a central, and unrewarding, role for two hours as a hysterical nut-job... The yawning gap in credibility is that sex just doesn’t shock any more, for all the woo-hoo effects. It might if it was subtler, and the period felt real, but no.
Those who admire the subtle ambiguity of Henry James’s famous ghost story... are likely to be horrified for all the wrong reasons... one suspects that Henry James may be turning in his grave at what has been inflicted on his masterly exercise in creating an atmosphere of mysterious unease which is open to a variety of interpretations...In James’s story, the boy, Miles, is clearly stated as being 10... Here, however, the boy has reached puberty and his voice has broken... Admirers of James’s novella therefore have every reason to be outraged. As a thriller, however, the production is often highly effective... Peter McKintosh’s revolving, haunted-house designs are outstanding and the illusionist Scott Penrose has come up with some fiendish tricks that greatly intensify the production’s often startling impact. There is a strong cast, too.
Rebecca Lenkiewicz's overheated new version... both hams up the horror and hints heavily at a Freudian vision. The result, provoking more titters than thrills, comes perilously close to the absurd. The magic of James's story lies in its dark, suggestive power. But, even though James is not above using the ingredients of the flesh-creeper, this version goes way over the top: we get ghostly screams, invisible hands scratching on blackboards and the diabolical Peter Quint unexpectedly popping up in the governess's bed. At the same time, there are strong suggestions the whole thing is the warped fantasy of a sexually hungry manic-depressive... The Freudian interpretation is not new... It fits uneasily, however, with the production's attempt to heighten the story's spooky sensationalism... What goes missing is the pervasive subtlety of James's story.