The emphasis is very definitely on the word 'screw' in the Almeida's new stage version of Henry James's 1898 chiller. Here, adapting playwright Rebecca Lenkiewicz infuses the classic Victorian ghost story with an erotic whimsy that's straight out of 'The Wicker Man'.
Not that this production by the ever-polished Lindsay Posner is exactly what you'd call smutty. But what James only alludes to – the 'filth' taught to the two young children in the care of Anna Madeley's governess by her deceased predecessor's late lover Peter Quint – here manifests itself explicitly: in the carnal ditties her charges Flora (Emilia Jones) and Miles (Laurence Belcher) sing with apparent innocence; in the virginal governess's own repressed sexual longings; and in her complicated relationship with the pubescent Miles.
After a flat-ish first half-hour, Posner builds and sustains the tension expertly, the encroaching air of sexual unease fanned by a genuinely nerve-wracking series of supernatural interventions from the late Quint (Eoin Geoghegan) whose shade pops up, alamingly, in all sorts of nooks and crannies (illusionist Scott Penrose and movement director Imogen Knight deserve great credit).
It's indubitably a triumph of atmosphere above all else, and though the child actors and the increasingly unstable Madeley are excellent, other characters and elements feel hidebound by the period ghost story trappings.
Nonetheless, as a troubling delve into the underbelly of the Victorian psyche it works well, while anyone looking for a scare or three has come to the right place.
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