Henry James' creepy 1898 novella about two spoilt children weirdly torturing their new governess with sexual ambiguity has probably had more theatrical adaptations than the collected works of Dickens. So, what does playwright Rebecca Lenkiewicz bring to the Almeida?
With Hammer Horror Films co-producing a literally bloodless revival, she ups the ghostly ante, with sudden apparitions of Miss Jessel and Peter Quint, and most significantly suggests that Miles, the inscrutable ten-year-old in Henry James, is a burgeoning adolescent teenager who snogs the governess and talks a bit like Nigel Havers.
I'm afraid this ruins the story's strangeness and delicacy, and Lindsay Posner's tentative production - nowhere near as good as those of Deborah Warner or Jonathan Miller of Benjamin Britten's great opera version - doesn't go where he really wants to: sexual fantasy and suppression in the fog-bound country estate of Bly that might have had some sort of reverberation in our troubled times of child abuse, false accusation and stay-at-home education.
It starts promisingly enough in the Harley Street offices of condition and comply; but it meanders on like an old-fashioned West End performance of misdirected passion, with Anna Madeley's governess far too wooden a reactor to illicit unexpected incursions, despite the odd shout-out from the stalls: "Oooghh", or "oh, sorry" (oddly) we had on opening night, with an odd "yeh".
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 who supervises, but cannot prevent, the tragedy.
But an indicator of the social vagueness is the reproduction in the published play text of a soppy, sentimental 1870 photograph of a brother and sister. James' story is far more inquisitive than that; Lenkiewicz starts to follow him but gives up out of reverence.
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.