The Turn Of The Screw

Basement Theatre, Lower Greys Ave, Auckland

07/03/2011 - 13/03/2011

Auckland Fringe 2011

Production Details

In the darkness of the BASEMENT unfolds a ghost story that will make your heart pound with every TURN OF THE SCREW.  

Voices echo through the cold halls, visions of the past colour every dank shadow; blind empty and alone, a young governess reaches out for the spectres of her past.

Sent to teach two sweet children, all is not as it seems for a naive governess as she is visited by the ghosts of the past and becomes obsessed with preventing the corruption of her precious young wards. 

Why is she not allowed to question the master?
And how did the previous governess die?
Who is the strange man on the tower?

As part of the Auckland Fringe Festival, Henry James’ classic ghost story is given a new life on the stage. 

Oscar Wilde called James’ original story ‘a most wonderful, lurid, poisonous little tale’, now masterfully recreated using live music, movement and puppetry from a sterling ensemble cast; including up-and-coming actors such as Virginia Frankovich, Philippa Johnson and Jordan Mooney as well as New Zealand acting treasure of stage and screen Brenda Kendall.

Original music performed and arranged by former member of the Auckland Philharmonia Polly Sussex. 

Adapted and directed by young British theatre practitioner Benjamin Henson, after having entered productions to the coveted Edinburgh Festival Fringe for the past 9 years, this brave new production marks Benjamin’s first venture into New Zealand theatre. 

The Basement, Lower Greys Ave, Auckland CBD, Tel: 09 309 7433 
7th March 10:00pm 
11th March 8:30pm 
12th March 5:30pm 
13th March 8:30pm   

Tickets: $15 ($10) 
All tickets can be booked on   

Imaginative storytelling and theatrical magic

Review by Adey Ramsel 08th Mar 2011

Benjamin Henson’s adaptation of Henry James’s novella, Turn of the Screw, presents us with the ambiguities of the original ghost story with an underlying theme that chills to this day.

The unspoken menace of child molestation looms large in this production, a theme Victorian readers whispered about when this work was first published. 

A master-stroke on Henson’s part has two nondescript, white, almost faceless puppets featuring as Miles and Flora the two ‘poor-little-rich-children’, orphaned at an early age, left to rot in an old mansion by an Uncle and supervised by a succession of Governesses.

It’s a bright idea using innocent puppetry for the two characters surrounded most by adult evil. When the hint of molestation begins to rear its head in the veiled script, it’s all the more chilling served, as it is, by the childish device. The children become precious in our eyes, yet ironically present a dark side that not only the Governess wishes to ignore. 

Such is the power of the white puppets, stark against a black theatre wall, that we accept them at once. Phillipa Johnson as the Governess, also in white, is impressive and reveals a slow slide into the ambiguous side of this tale. Are the ghosts she sees of the other world or is she the one who is really mad? 

Supported by Brenda Kendall as an excellent country bumpkin Housekeeper and Lisa Sorenson as a maid and general support, this strong company maintain the flow of the show providing set, props and atmosphere with one wrought iron bed and a few pieces of material. The presence of this black clad movement in and around the main action adds to the mystery of an unknown force, somewhere, out there.

Polly Sussex on the Cello provides an atmospheric and beautifully timed underscore, never intrusive yet making her presence felt and giving us more than mere sound bites of shock tactics. 

Miles, aka Jordan Mooney, and Flora, aka Virginia Frankovich, are superb puppeteers. Never taking their eyes off their charges and never once allowing their attention to droop, they keep ours tuned into the children as life breathing characters. Director Henson should be proud that these two actors don’t only bring life to two of the most vulnerable characters I’ve seen in a long time, but also for making us care. Using just the right voice pitch and sleight of hand for head and arm movement creates a beautiful, flowing characterisation that you can’t keep your eyes off. 

On the opening night I noticed one or two industry ‘names’ in the audience and it would be nice to think that at least one of them encourages Henson to enlarge on this production and place it elsewhere for a longer period. For sheer imaginative story-telling and theatrical magic, this is a production that should not be lost.   

This review kindly supported by The James Wallace Arts Trust

For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News.   


Adey Ramsel March 12th, 2011

Having just reviewed the Opera Factory's production of The Turn of the Screw I came away realsing that the girl characters name is 'Flora' whereas in fact in this review I called her 'Laura'!! God knows where 'Laura' came from but I apologise now. 

Now corrected - ED

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