Director Daniel Buckroyd kindly talked to us about the thrilling new production of Henry James’ much-loved classic ghost story; Turn of the Screw ahead of it's run, which starts on the 23rd February. 

Turn of the Screw

Turn of the Screw

What can audiences expect from your new production of Turn of the Screw?

When Henry James wrote The Turn Of The Screw in the late nineteenth century he pretty much defined the genre of the psychological ghost story that we’ve come to know so well, along the way inspiring a host of other works including The Woman In Black with its mix of supernatural suspense and edge-of-the-seat intrigue. So I’m delighted to say that Tim Luscombe’s masterful adaptation delivers on both of these expectations, and that our audiences are in for a deliciously unsettling, thoroughly nerve-jangling evening in the theatre.

Why were Carli Norris and Maggie McCarthy such a perfect fit for the project?

As you’d expect with a tale that twists and turns like The Turn Of The Screw, the characters at the heart of this story make for really fascinating, challenging acting roles; particularly in Tim’s highly theatrical retelling, with the Governess slipping backwards and forwards in time as she tries to piece together what’s happening to the children in her care, and the Housekeeper shifting her allegiances back and forth as she tries to protect her position. Carli and Maggie bring such a wealth of stage experience to these roles, that even on day two of rehearsals there’s a real electricity in the room as they’re starting to bring the text to life - it’s very exciting!

What drew you to the story in the first place?

I first read The Turn Of The Screw in my early twenties and then encountered it again a few years later in Benjamin Britten’s haunting opera. It’s a story that got the hairs on the back of my neck tingling straight away - something to do with the collision of innocence and experience at its heart, perhaps? - but I think the reason it’s stayed with me so strongly is that it’s such an incredibly ambiguous narrative that it’s almost impossible to be sure exactly what’s real and what’s imagined at any point - it truly is the ultimate whodunnit.

Do you or any of the cast believe in ghosts?

It was our first day of rehearsals yesterday and, unsurprisingly perhaps, the cast and I found ourselves wrestling with this very question. It was a fascinating conversation that revealed, as one might expect, that the team is a motley band of believers, sceptics and agnostics, although the discussion did include a number of people sharing personal experiences of seeing ghosts or experiencing other paranormal phenomena, which I have to admit I found quite chilling.

Why do you think theatre goers still have such a fascination with ghost stories?

I don’t know whether theatre goers have a particular claim on being fascinated by ghost stories, but what they certainly do have is a readiness to gather together in the dark and believe in characters coming to life in front of their very eyes, and an openness to getting swept up in an experience that can profoundly alter their emotional and physical state, which must be something like encountering a ghost.

Please tell us about rehearsals- did the nature of the story ever make you feel a little uneasy?

The subject matter, particularly where the story tackles psychological trauma or deals with the treatment of children, is already making for some challenging conversations, but, to be honest, one of the great joys of rehearsing a piece like this is getting in a room with a bunch of amazing actors and other creatives who are up for the collective challenge of shining a light into the darkest corners of human experience and making something illuminating; which is a long-winded way of saying ‘yes, but that’s that’s what making theatre should be’.

What is next for you?

Actually, once I’ve directed Turn Of The Screw I’m going to be turning my attention to a major building project we’re about to start at the Mercury Theatre in Colchester, where I’m Artistic Director. It’s a £9m scheme to renovate the entire theatre, including adding new front of house facilities, rehearsal studios, more seats and a creative learning space for all our community and education activities. It’ll be a change from the rehearsal room but no less challenging or creative I suspect!

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