The Turn of the Screw

The Factory Theatre, 7 Eden Street, Newmarket, Auckland

08/03/2011 - 11/03/2011

Auckland Fringe 2011

Production Details


Opera goes gothic in this ghostly tale of good versus evil, natural versus supernatural, possession and even exorcism! 

Benjamin Britten’s controversial contemporary chamber opera ‘The Turn of the Screw’ will be presented for four nights only at the Opera Factory Theatre in the heart of Newmarket 8 – 11 March as part of the 2011 Auckland Fringe Festival.

Opera Factory Artistic Director Sally Sloman says that while ‘The Turn of the Screw’ is rarely performed in New Zealand, it is regarded by many as Britten’s finest stage-work and this short season offers a rare opportunity to experience this dramatic masterpiece which is superb operatic theatre, a chilling and totally engaging phychological drama with a stunning and involving Britten score.

“Britten based his work on the Henry James novel of the same name and used the libretto of Myfanwy Piper. In true Opera Factory style, and in keeping with the spirit of the Fringe Festival, our production will be innovative – if not a little dark. ‘Twilight’ meets ‘The Medium’ so to speak!” says Sloman.

Supported by Auckland City Arts Alive this short season stars leading professional artists Emma Sloman (The Governess), Mary Newman-Pound (Mrs Grose), Cameron Barclay (Quint), Tizane McEvoy ( Flora), boy sopranos Thomas White/Conrad Edwards as Miles with Rosemary Barnes as Music Director with pianist David Kelly.

Well known opera singer/director Carmel Carroll will bring her experienced theatrical skills to direct this extraordinary tale, in a fully staged production with designs by John Eaglen. Further information

‘The Turn of the Screw’, Britten’s final chamber opera, was written in a short period of just four months and premiered in 1954. The two act work is one of the most tautly constructed of all Britten’s operas. The musical material is almost wholly derived from the twelve-note ‘Screw’ theme, heard at the opening of the opera, and gives this work astonishing dramatic power on the corruption of innocence.

A Governess is given complete charge of an orphaned brother and sister, but is forewarned by their guardian not to bother him with any problems. She immediately senses an air of mystery about the household which Mrs Grose, the housekeeper, is unable to explain. The children seem angelic, but the Governess soon discovers that they are haunted by the ghosts of Peter Quint, former caretaker, and Miss Jessel, their previous Governess, who exercise an evil control over the boy and girl, striving to possess their souls. As the situation comes to a dangerous climax, the Governess dispatches Flora to the guardian in care of Mrs Grose. Miles remains behind. When, at the Governesses’ insistence, he attempts to exorcise the ghost, he dies.

Britten’s gothic style operatic drama
Where: The Factory Theatre, 7 Eden Street, Newmarket
When: Tuesday 8th – Friday 11th March 2011 at 7.30pm
How:  or Ph iTICKET 09 361 1000
Further Information:    

A triumph of theatrical story-telling over expensive special effects

Review by Adey Ramsel 13th Mar 2011

Devoid of all theatrical special effects, the Opera Factory’s production of Britten’s The Turn of the Screw is nonetheless a feast for all senses. The minimalist set of black drapes and steps aided by simple lighting and gauze bring out the eerie chills in this chamber opera based on Henry James’s ghost story. John Eaglen, credited with set and lighting design has contributed greatly to this excellent production. 

Director Carmel Carroll has gone back to basics, and in doing so has managed to heighten the senses of an audience. One almost feels like those first readers when the Victorian novella was published, using our imaginations to paint out the story.

The ambiguity of the original story is whether the ghosts are indeed of another world or merely figments of the Governess’s imagination. Who, indeed, is the mad one here?

Carmel Carroll uses her talent on her stellar cast in such a way that an answer to the ambiguity is not at all evident. Occasionally the ghosts stand not in view of the living characters yet are ‘seen’, mostly by the Governess.   If intentional, it’s a device that works well and brings us into both their worlds. Yes we can see the spirits but if we can see them over there, are the living really seeing them when they look elsewhere? 

Cameron Barclay and Rachel Day give chilling performances as ghosts Peter Quint and Miss Jessel, both instilling their roles with just the right amount of ‘creep’. Their Act 2 opener is dark and full of menace. 

Emma Sloman is stand out as the Governess, moving between genuine concern for the children in her care and teetering on the edge herself. She is ably supported by Mary Newman-Pound as distraught housekeeper Mrs Grose, presenting us with a warm motherly creature. 

Tizane McEvoy as Flora and Thomas White as Miles both show a flair for stage presence and each have their own show stealing scene, Tizane by the lake and Thomas in the final scene. It’s nice to see them hold their own on a bare stage with nothing but the story and an assured directors hand to guide them. 

Rosemary Barnes playing Britten’s score on a grand piano deserves high praise indeed, a feat that was surely the recipient of the majority of the applause and foot stamping on the night. 

Overall an excellent telling of a classic musical piece and a triumph of theatrical story-telling over expensive special effects.

In reviewing both productions of The Turn of the Screw that have been presented at this years Fringe Festival it’s hard not to draw comparisons. To see two very different genres of the same story in the same week was a treat and I wonder how many others took advantage of it. Seeing one I believe helped me appreciate the other more. 

Both have more than their fair share of chills and came to each production from very different backgrounds. Whilst the Opera Factory was more conventional in origin, Benjamin Henson at The Basement came to the project decidedly from left field. It’s refreshing to see that a hundred year old story can have life breathed into it from different sides of the same equation and I would hazard a bet that if the same audience attended both productions they would have enjoyed both equally as well.

Neither production relied on set or flamboyant wardrobe, allowing their respective scripts do the majority of the work. Lighting proved hugely effective in both providing atmosphere and mood and so praise indeed should be handed out to Janet Kirwan, (The Basement) and John Eaglen, (Opera Factory).

Whereas music was the basis for the Newmarket production, puppetry was a major factor in the city, and both shows were privileged with a director that not only wanted to put the story on stage but to increase its power and effect. Both achieved that and again praise must go to their respective cast and companies. 

This review kindly supported by The James Wallace Arts Trust

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First-rate cast spin complex web of meaning in moody gothic tale

Review by William Dart 11th Mar 2011

If The Turn of the Screw is not Benjamin Britten’s finest opera, then it is certainly his most concentrated; and, thanks to its Henry James inspiration, richest in its possible interpretations.

Carmel Carroll’s production used the atmospheric potential of John Eaglen’s minimal set to create a riveting psychological ghost story. A first-rate cast took care of the drama while gauze and lighting boosted the chill factor. If the opera’s reality hinges on the central character of the Governess, then Emma Sloman was just the actor to suggest all the unspoken subtexts. Navigating Britten’s often mercilessly jagged lines, she brought an emotional focus to her great Lost in my labyrinth monologue. [More]
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