Benjamin Britten’s opera The Turn Of The Screw is on for a short run until at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre this June – here’s why you should see it!
The outdoor setting
Obviously this applies to every production put on by Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre (the clue is in the name), but rustling foliage, birdsong and other natural sound effects add an atmospheric layer to this tale of a young governess contending with sinister goings-on at a remote country house.
Similarly, the fading light of sunset towards the end brings out new subtleties in the set design. With an unusually late start time of 8pm, the production is perfectly timed to highlight the benefits of performing under the open sky, giving the plot more weight in its closing moments.
Designer Soutra Gilmour has created a wonderfully eerie representation of Bly – the isolated house where the story takes place – which resembles a sort of skeletal greenhouse surrounded by overgrown grass, boardwalks and bleached wooden furniture.
The framework of the set allows performers to remain in sight as they traverse the levels and layers of the house, with plenty of places for ghostly apparitions to appear…
The child roles of Flora and Miles are pivotal pawns in this chilling ghost story, and the juxtaposition between their pure melodies, their gleeful childish games and the malevolent forces that gradually seem to overtake them was brilliantly played out by Elen Willmer and Daniel Sidhom the night I saw the production.
The Turn Of The Screw is, after all, a classic ghost story based on the 1898 Henry James novella, and the ghosts (former Bly employees Peter Quint and Miss Jessel) put in plenty of appearances, both in the ‘flesh’ and through disembodied song.
Their presence in the house and grounds increases as the opera progresses and their influence grows. A particularly goosebump-inducing moment is Peter Quint’s recurring serenade to Miles, which echoes out across the auditorium, causing audience members to crane their necks in search of the sound’s invisible source.
Just visible behind translucent panelling on the set, the small ensemble skilfully navigate Britten’s score, with strings and woodwind passing intricate chromatic passages between them with efficient dexterity.
It’s complex, haunting music full of interweaving themes, and the orchestral players interact seamlessly with the on-stage performers (in particular during a scene where Miles plays a disturbingly virtuosic piece on the battered piano half-hidden in long grass at the front of the set).
The Turn Of The Screw is booking at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre until 30 June.