The Turn of the Screw review – OperaGlass Works make a brilliantly creepy virtue out of necessity

One of the many casualties of last year’s lockdown was OperaGlass Works’ new staging of Britten’s The Turn of the Screw, co-produced by Selina Cadell and Eliza Thompson, conducted by John Wilson, that had been scheduled for a run in late March 2020 at Wilton’s Music Hall in east London. Determined not to let six weeks of rehearsal go to waste, Cadell and Thompson decided to rework the production as a film in collaboration with Marquee TV, sharing the directing honours with Dominic Best.

It’s by no means a simple visual record of a staging, as the whole of Wilton’s has become the set. The stalls, minus their chairs, now house the dilapidated facade of Bly, its garden and the banks of the lake where Francesca Chiejina’s Miss Jessel appears to Alys Mererid Roberts’s Flora. The foyers, twisting staircases and galleries, meanwhile, have become both Bly’s sombre interior and an image of the psychological labyrinth in which Rhian Lois’s anxious Governess gradually realises she is lost.

Appropriately enough for an opera that blurs the often thin dividing line between reality and illusion, we’re privy to the process of filming itself, as we see cameramen tracking the performers, sets being changed, musicians playing, even Wilson conducting in a recording studio. But what starts out as a slightly intrusive mannerism becomes deeply creepy when the sudden appearance of Robert Murray’s malign Quint, summoning Leo Jemison’s Miles from a monitor, leaves us wondering whether the ghosts are not only meant to have invaded the opera, but are in some way haunting and controlling its filming as well.

It’s superbly performed. Lois is a fine Governess, desperately clinging to ideas of her own moral rectitude, and confronting the horrors, real or imagined, that surround her with growing desperation and, at times, shocking anger. The unearthly beauty of Murray’s and Chiejina’s singing adds immeasurably to the sense of evil the pair of them generate. Gweneth Ann Rand makes a younger, more sympathetic Mrs Grose than some, and the children are excellent: Jemison admirably suggests Miles’s damaged innocence and unhappiness, while Roberts’s Flora, rarely bettered, is altogether more knowing, calculating and potentially cruel. The Sinfonia of London, meanwhile, play wonderfully well for Wilson, who ratchets up the tension while remaining continuously alert to the beauty and terror of Britten’s score.

Available on Marquee TV (£, or free for signups to a trial period)