Ghost classic Turn of the Screw in Portsmouth

Plenty of chills are promised as a dynamic new adaptation of Turn of the Screw embarks on a UK tour, taking in Portsmouth's New Theatre Royal from April 3-7.

Maggie McCarthy and Carli Norris - Turn of the Screw - Photo by Robert Workman
Maggie McCarthy and Carli Norris - Turn of the Screw - Photo by Robert Workman

It’s a new take on Henry James’ much-loved classic ghost story, says Maggie McCarthy, who plays the housekeeper, but it’s a take which remains faithful to the original, particularly in capturing its much-celebrated ambiguity.

In 1840, a young governess agrees to look after two orphans, a boy and a girl, in Bly, a seemingly-idyllic country house. But shortly after her arrival, she realises that they are not alone. There are others – the ghosts of Bly’s troubled past. The governess will risk everything to keep the children safe, even if it means giving herself up to The Others. Years later, she is confronted by the past.

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“Without giving away too much, the audience observes two different time frames, 1840 when the story supposedly happened and 1870 which is where we start.

“I read the original book many, many years ago, but I didn’t re-read it this time, deliberately. For my character, I take the view that there is enough in the text.

“I am the housekeeper, and one of the fascinating things is that there are lots of different takes possible, whether the ghosts exist, whether the ghosts don’t exist, what is happening.

“The housekeeper is a very, very loyal member of staff. With the original family, she was the wife’s maid. I know quite a bit about the lower orders at that time. I tend to play those roles. She would have started when she was 14 or 15 and she is still there 40 or 50 years later. The original lady of the house has died and her son took over and he has now died and it has passed to her brother to look after the niece and nephew.

“The housekeeper knows her place, and she is very keen to keep her place. It must have been quite scary in those days when there was a disturbance in the household and the new master of the house is not even there. Having worked there and been looked after there all her life, she would have known that she would have nothing if she didn’t have the job.

“But she has been left in charge of the children of whom she is extremely fond. I imagine that she is unmarried and that she has no children of her own. The children have become her family.”

What happens next is shocking...

“We have had some giggles, but sometimes in the theatre when people are shocked, they will giggle, a nervous giggle, and that is absolutely fine.”

For other stories by Phil, see: