If you’ve ever read The Turn of the Screw, you are aware of how important the mood is to the piece. The story twists and turns, showcasing one woman’s descent into hysteria set against the backdrop of an English manner in the countryside. Box Tale Soup hit the nail on the head with it’s stage adaptation, showing at the Big Belly venue of Underbelly Cowgate.
The Turn of the Screw, originally published as a short story in 1898 by Henry James, has been adapted for stage multiple times. Box Tale Soup has provided their own spin on the Gothic tale with the incorporation of puppets. Only two actors make up the whole cast- Antonia Christophers plays an un-named governess who arrives at an isolated country house, unaware of its dark history, and Noel Byrne provides the rest of the slew of characters- housekeeper, the two children, and two haunting spectres- through use of puppets that the company make themselves.
To say that Box Tale Soup created an atmosphere for the piece would be an understatement- the venue, a dark and cold hall with water occasionally dripping from the ceiling- might be a setting to avoid for a more chipper piece, but it works in the company’s favour tremendously. Christophers and Byrne move around each other from scene to scene like two dancers performing a meticulously choreographed routine- and in a way, they are. Byrne never takes his eyes off of Christophers- contributing to the feeling that her character is being ‘watched’. Pieces of the set are moved and rearranged, puppets change hands more times than I could count, and seamless (literally) costume changes from Byrne prove that even the smallest details were considered in production. Music cues imply when the tone is meant to change from cheerful to pensive to frightening, without ever making it too obvious to the viewer.
The piece is also a testament to the acting ability of both actors- Christophers transition from a well-meaning governess to a woman steeped in her own hysteria is incredibly well-delivered, and there are moments where I believe the puppets are actually real people, not simply creations being controlled by Byrne. The story has an open ending- we never learn what becomes of the governess following the tragic climax, and we as viewers are forced to consider small details we may have overlooked- the children referring to the governess as ‘dear’, for example, could imply something a little more sinister than simply a term of endearment.
The incorporation of puppets brought new live to this 19th-century story, and cemented it as one of my Fringe favourites – absolutely not one to be missed if you are a fan of anything creepy, or you fancy seeing some masterful puppetry.