Edinburgh Fringe 2018
A new adaptation of Henry James’ disturbing story, from the award-winning creators of Fringe 2017 hit Dorian Gray, featuring puppetry and a haunting original soundtrack. At an isolated estate, a young governess arrives. Before long she fears there is something darker in the depths of Bly House and battles to save the children from the mysterious figures who seek to corrupt them.
Based on the 1898 serial novella by Henry James (first published in Collier’s Weekly) the latest production from Edinburgh veterans Box Tale Soup Theatre is somewhat unique even by Fringe standards. This gothic fiction horror story adaptation, performed by Co-Artistic Directors and company founders Noel Byrne and Antonia Christophers and directed by Adam Lenson, comes complete with original soundtrack, innovative movement and staging, and Bunraku puppetry.
The rain rattles the aging ceiling above as patrons file in slowly to the darkened warehouse-like space at the Fringe’s iconic Underbelly. Dampness and dust pervade the air as moisture runs down the thick stone walls and grey stone steps. There’s a sense of desperation here tinged with something like loneliness and with the wind whistling through the cracks from time to time it is not hard to be transported to Bly, the isolated country house where our story is set. As with any adaptation some extensive pruning of the original text has had to take place but, like their previous productions, Box Tale Soup have done a great job of keeping the bones of the story intact while fleshing out the more salient plot points.
In keeping with their signature style the setting is simple and utilitarian – window frames, some boxes, and a large steamer trunk – and it is a testament to the skill of the performers that we are whisked effortlessly from stairwell to crumbling mansion to lakeside jetty as these items are expertly manipulated. Clever costuming also helps to make the scene and character changes flow seamlessly. Byrne and Christophers inhabit the host of characters like old clothes augmenting the human cast with simple yet wonderful puppets whose innocent expressionless faces add a palpable unease to the proceedings.
The process of adapting such a well-known and established text is a complex one and for the most part Box Tale Soup have done well to consolidate the narrative into a Fringe-friendly portion. For this reviewer, however, some of the incidental character choices were a little weak and could have been clearer as they didn’t always track with the established plot on stage and may have been confusing to younger patrons. The sound design, including eerie music and foley effects, effectively augments the action and more use, perhaps, could have been made of lighting effects to highlight particular moments. That aside though this is an atmospheric and engaging production. There are a multitude of opportunities at the Fringe to find ghost stories, ghost tours, ghost story tours, and other ghostly experiences but none so similar to The Turn of the Screw. This is a show that is worth seeking out.