Screw the rules

Being part of the Barbican’s Young Visual Arts Group, my diary has recently been “barbicaned” with workshops, art exhibitions and street tours. Adoring one brute of a concrete building for another, the Barbican has now become enshrined into my theatre journey alongside the National Theatre. Seeking inspiration for my very first play, the Young Visual Arts Group is an exciting personal and artistic venture. Completing my Barbican weekend, I wanted to witness something different…something where I could begin to appreciate the visual arts practice…so I found this…

Credit: Matt Jolly at Aldeburgh Music
Credit: Matt Jolly at Aldeburgh Music

Benjamin Britten’s The Turn of the Screw

Britten’s last and arguably greatest chamber opera, The Turn of the Screw combines Henry James’ supernatural tale of innocence and corruption with some of the composer’s most powerful music, creating a work that is by turns ravishing and shattering. A truly stellar cast joins Aurora Orchestra under Nicholas Collon for an atmospheric concert performance of this most elusive and claustrophobic of ghost fables.

Aurora Orchestra London  Season 2015/16

which was performed in this…

St Luke's Exterior

Beautiful, isn’t it? I’m a sucker for the church. LSO St Luke‘s is a stunning 18th Century Grade 1 listed Hawksmoor church, which fulfils the perfect venue for a ghostly production. Walking into the grounds, a cuddle of mysterious warmth and evaporation of life’s stresses zapped from my being. Forget the boring old vicar, sweet memories of carol services by candlelight and midnight mass sprung to mind. Wandering up the concrete spiral staircase, the gallery gave us this heavenly sight.

Credit: Sam Murray Sutton at Aldebrugh Music
Credit: Sam Murray Sutton at Aldeburgh Music

The latticed cube demanded “look at me”, encasing the orchestra and singers within an extremely confined space. The immediate barrier between drama and audience slashed any sort of “emotional connection” with the characters and hoping for their bid for freedom would be granted during the production. The cube represented the innards of the Governess’ complex mind – after all “her mind is on trial” whilst working within the wealthy bachelor’s house of Bly and being haunted by ghosts. The children, Joshua Kenney’s Miles and Louise Moseley’s Flora, playfully interacted with the cube from inside out, enabling the audience to bless their little cotton socks. The ghosts of Quint (Andrew Staples) and Miss Jessel (Jane Irwin) haunted the corners of the cube and church, using the church’s spiralling staircases as a handy aid. Their voices bellowed and cried, staining the air with howls of eeriness. Reading Andrew Staples and Sophie Hunter’s Directors’ Notes, they achieved the aim of creating “something physical yet permeable, something that can contain the action but also open up a poetic and metaphorical space in which to interpret it“.

At times, I did feel slightly neglected and distant from the production. Due to the set’s restrictive barrier, I longed for a sense of extreme emotion from the singers. Perhaps I’m blurring the boundaries of theatre and opera, but I wanted clarity and a splash of explosive drama, especially located within a large church hall. I yearned for Sophie Bevan’s Governess and Dame Ann Murray’s Mrs Grose to look above their notes, break free from the cube and walk amongst the audience to release this “corruption of innocence“.

Being an iconic “sculpture“, the cube also had a partner in crime deed – William Reynolds’ lighting. Establishing the mood and complementing the orchestra, the lights were my visual delight. Like a bunch of stretched glowworms, the brightness made me appreciate the stage lighting for the first time. The latticed cube provided a dramatic projective space, enabling the colours to distort and pierce the darkness. I appreciated the creativity as Miles was mentally kidnapped and bonded with the sculpture through the flickers of light over his body. Then, Miles and Flora shone their torches on the faces of Quint and Miss Jessel, casting shadows upon the church’s walls. I also admired the hologram of Miles’ spirit gradually appearing on Nicholas Collon’s (the conductor) back, which installed a great final memory of production.

The Aurora Orchestra gave me a fine taste of what to expect from them in the future. I’m afraid I’m uneducated in the classical music department, but it was an absolute joy to simply watch the musicians perform such a thundering score. With concentrated faces, their glorious blasts to the eardrums deployed sudden wildness and harmony throughout the production. I know orchestras tend to appeal towards the slightly “wiser” (older) and “classy” (posh) audiences, but I’m genuinely starting to appreciate this type of music. The musical notes are just as important as the script.

Thanks to all those involved in the making and performing of The Turn of the Screw, I will continue my hunt for the visually stunning productions. The Turn of the Screw has confirmed that “different” can indeed inspire the next generation of theatre makers (hopefully I will be in there soon!)

Scans of programme:

The Turn of the Screw Programme

The Turn of the Screw Programme

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