With a couple of hours to kill before the show; in the Euphorium Bakery where we hole ourselves, we are discouraged from drinking any more coffee. The caffiene won't be necessary, so says our waitress. The Turn of the Screw, which recently opened at the Almeida Theatre down the road to some fanfare, is "scary." Your correspondent at Londonist is cynical of horror stories. Jaded, even.
Which is why the Hammer Theatre of Horror label is interesting - the Hammer name may have little to do with the movie studio that churned out a sequence of classics in the 1950s, the rights having been bought by the mogul chairing Endemol back in 2007, but it retains some of its dubious pedigree none-the-less. Anyway, this is one of the classic American ghost stories, The Turn of the Screw, and Rebecca Lenkiewicz has done a pretty good job of adapting the necessary ambiguities of the original text to the rotating stage of the Almeida.
Of any horror production, there is only one question to ask: was it scary, or wasn't it? The Turn of the Screw is a weirdly sexual story in the first instance, but it relies on textual mysteries that the reader is asked to solve for themselves. This is the thing that doesn't translate well to an audiovisual medium: Lenkiewicz leans a little too hard on the Freudian analysis, which is by now an obvious and discredited one, at least in the mind of the popular audience.
Still, this is press night, and it's safe to assume that those gasps and involuntary squeaks of terror are those of a jaded audience. There's a real creeping sense of dread in the first act, thanks to the sound design, the performances - particularly of Anna Madeley, Gemma Jones, and tonight's Flora Lucy Morton (there are three Floras in rotation); Laurence Belcher as Miles pitches too mature and precocious to really work in the context - and some truly excellent, innovative staging.
But when atmosphere is all-important, it's easily broken, and when we return for the second act that uneasy, uncanny feeling that was so solidly constructed has been shattered by the interval in the cosy surroundings of the Almeida, and it's difficult to get back into the mood. The Turn of the Screw, in its second act, is more akin to a blockbuster horror movie than it is to a classic ghost story. It's fine, but forgettable.
So: was it scary, or wasn't it? It was, but it wasn't enough.