By Henry James, adapted by Ali Gorton
Directed by Ali Gorton
Venue: Connaught Theatre
Date: Thursday 13th March 2008
I nearly gave this a 3/10 rating, as the first half was very weak. It picked up in the second half though, and so I felt that overall a 5/10 rating was just appropriate.
There were a number of problems with the production. The set was another portmanteau effort, which seemed too jumbled to give me any real sense of place most of the time. The scene down by the lake was good, with some of the furniture removed, and mist billowing out across the stage and auditorium, but otherwise I found the locations quite confusing. Added to this was the lighting, which was often dim. For good reason admittedly, but it still made it harder to see what was going on. The story was told in a strange sequence, with the last scene chronologically shown first, then a flashback to the governess being offered her post, then another flashback to when the two servants were alive, then a flash forward to the governess’s arrival at the house. Knowing the story reasonably well, I wasn’t too worried, but I did wonder how someone who didn’t know it would get on.
Apart from that, there were some odd effects, such as having one of the lights flash on and off rapidly. It was presumably meant to tell us something about the ghostly apparitions, but I certainly didn’t get anything from it. And the horrendous wig the previous governess was wearing was only scary in the humorous sense. But the biggest problem was in the delivery of the lines. Again, I knew the story fairly well, so I was able to get by, and perhaps a headset would have helped a bit, but unfortunately Honeysuckle Weeks showed a distinct lack of vocal prowess in this part. She gabbled a lot of her lines as if she were in a race. We had started fifteen minutes late, and I briefly wondered if they were hurrying to catch up the lost time, but it was just the pace they were playing it at. Her voice definitely needs to be developed if she’s going to do much on the stage. [18/9/11 Seen her several times since and she’s been fine – don’t know what went wrong tonight]
Despite that, she got across a good picture of a highly strung young woman of a romantic disposition, used to her own family, who gets caught up in the atmosphere of the first house she goes to work in. The possibility of the ghosts being entirely in her imagination is one that was new to Steve, though I’d come across it before in a TV adaptation, and it’s well presented here. Personally I think there’s a bit of both options going on. The two servants have left an emotional legacy which has been ignored up to now, and the sensitive governess picks up on this and takes it further than she has any right to, making serious misjudgements along the way. There were some scary moments – I held Steve’s arm for a while – and the death scene was well done, so the evening ended better than it had begun.
© 2008 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me