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The Turn of the Screw, Sydney, July 2023

Tooth & Sinew and Seymour Centre present The Turn of the Screw for the 2023 Seymour Season Production.

One of author Henry James’ most famous works, The Turn of the Screw follows a governess convinced ghosts are trying to possess the two orphaned children she cares for in a remote English estate. The 1898 gothic novella that delves into the human psyche has been praised for its suspenseful and haunting atmosphere.

Over a hundred years since its publication, The Turn of the Screw has embedded itself in the zeitgeist through stage adaptations across plays, operas, and ballet, as well as popularised through literature, film, and television.

Most recently, the ghost story captured the attention of writer and director Richard Hilliar, who promises, “simultaneously a faithful adaptation and modern reinterpretation.” We spoke with him about drawing Sydney audiences into the psychological thriller.

Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw has an enduring appeal. Tell us about your earliest encounter with the text.

I was going through a phase of reading all of the classic horror stories, such as Frankenstein and Dracula, when it popped up on my radar when I was about 16. Something about the panic and paranoia throughout the story spoke to me. I would return to it every few years, and something new would always present itself upon rereading.

Why did you choose to bring this supernatural tale to the stage?

My wife (Nicole Wineberg, Tooth and Sinew Co-artistic Director) and I love gothic horror stories and were keen to stage one. Our recent output has focused on an extreme style of comedy, and we wanted to explore another genre that is just as popular and entertaining but in a different way. The Turn of the Screw has huge potential as a live drama. With my affection for the story, it seemed a clear choice for an adaptation.

How have you approached the challenges and advantages of the horror genre?

I always prefer theatre that impacts you viscerally rather than simply cerebrally, and this is much easier to achieve in a horror story. It's a "theatre of the guts" that we should embrace further.

Though a popular cinematic genre, theatre productions focused on inspiring horror and dread are surprisingly rare. The most compelling horror, in my opinion, is the fear of the unknown and what you can't see. This can present some difficulties on stage as opposed to film, where viewers' gaze is controlled by framing and editing. However, this challenge can and should be used to inspire creativity and, in many cases, restraint.

You say that horror is as engaging as comedy, and your production will have audiences questioning their senses and checking every shadow. Tell us about the experience you hope to create.

The original novella is celebrated for its ambiguity and mystery – this is something our production embraces. We hope audiences feel the story’s claustrophobic paranoia and creeping dread while also being compelled to unravel the mystery of what is happening in this shadowy manor. It will be a different experience to other Sydney theatre from recent years.

We’re not interested in slasher movie-style shocks, but some themes will be confronting, so those under 16 aren’t encouraged to attend.

So far, what has been a highlight in the development of this ghost story?

Working with the cast. It's not an easy script, and we're lucky to have a talented and hard-working ensemble who have been utterly fearless in their explorations in the rehearsal room. I’m constantly surprised every time we meet and so excited by their ease of access to some of the darkest elements of the human emotional experience. They have risen to the challenge in the most exciting way possible.

You can buy tickets priced between $35-$49 for Wednesday through Saturday performances between July 21 – August 12 via Seymour Centre:

(02) 9061 5344

By Tahney Fosdike


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