Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Sunday Read: Joel Ivany on Turn of The Screw

Killing Curiousity
Staging Britten's brilliantly dark piece
by Joel Ivany

It is a curious story.
Benjamin Britten’s chamber opera, The Turn of the Screw, opened in 1954 at Teatro La Fenice in Venice.
Against the Grain Theatre will be producing the eerie tale from May 24-27 at the Helen Gardiner Phelan Playhouse, on U of T campus.
It’s quite an exciting theatrical piece to be preparing.  Described primarily as a ghost story, it can also be interpreted, though rarely is, as a love story.

We are first introduced to the love between the Governess and the Guardian of the children, whom we never meet.  It is described as a passionate and fantasy-driven kind of love.  The Governess is an innocent young woman who has been bewitched by a man whom she met in the big city.  Juxtaposed with this relationship, we then see the love between the Governess and the children she has sworn to protect, as she says “…but I shall love them as I love my own.”  She has arrived to look after and care for these two beautiful children who have no Mother or Father.  The Governess has decided to love them no matter what, even before having met them.  This, to me, is the carrying force of this story.  How far will she go in protecting these children from evil that she believes is torturing them?  

Finally there is the love story between Peter Quint and the children, and in particular, Miles.
Then there are the two spectres.  The ghosts, apparitions, phantoms and spirits.
Early in Act I we hear from Mrs. Grose, the tragic tale about two deceased employees of the estate, Peter Quint and Miss Jessel.  The Governess claims to have seen them, which fuels her quest to salvation.  By Act II we discover that the two had previously been lovers and are now frequenting both children Miles and Flora.
Finally there is the love story between Peter Quint and the children, and in particular, Miles.  Mrs. Grose describes Quint and Miles’ relationship, saying “I saw things I did not like, when Quint was free with everyone, with little Master Miles! … He had ways to twist them round his little finger…he had his will morning and night.”  When the Governess questions this, Mrs. Grose replies, “Quint was too clever.  I feared him.”  This complicated relationship is perhaps the one that gets the most attention in critical opinion since its debut 58 years ago.
As previously mentioned, as a Director, the most interesting part of this story is the psychological journey that The Governess takes from our first interaction to her final note.  Her character is incredibly rich, as there is a sizeable change that occurs during her journey.  These types of characters are a director’s dream.  Myfanwy Piper wrote a beautiful libretto, something that is not easy to do when adapting a novel.  She has layered depth into each individual that goes beyond what is written on the page.  This is why AtG was drawn to this particular piece.  It is a theatrically driven work that lives through the music.  
Our performances are in The Helen Gardiner Phelan Playhouse - an intimate, cozy, (perhaps haunted) theatre.  Very AtG indeed.
For our production at Against the Grain Theatre, we are using all elements available to us to tell this ghostly love story.  
Our performances are in The Helen Gardiner Phelan Playhouse - an intimate, cozy, (perhaps haunted) theatre.  Very AtG indeed.
Our set, designed by award-winning designer Camellia Koo, is simple yet breathtakingly effective.  The audience surrounds the action, making them a part of each scene. Jason Hand, who is designing the lights for this show, has quite the job.  He’s faced with many lights and using them all effectively. It is Jason’s responsibility and our treat to experience opera in a different setting with colours and shadows that creep into our beings and create a mood that has an overall arch in setting up this operas chilling last scene.
We are working with costume designer Erika Connor for the first time.  She’s creating costumes that evolve around a set time period, but mixed with Camellia’s set, they will evoke both the past and the present.
As the Director I’ve repeatedly been asked, “are they really ghosts, or does it all happen in the Governess’s head?”  To be honest, I do not want to be too literal in either sense.  For me the most important task is to present the story as it is, which allows the audience to come to its own conclusions.  We’ll be taking a psychological look at the Governess, but also examining these rich, other relationships that are so beautifully woven into the story.
We hope you come and share in this wonderful production. I personally guarantee you’ll experience something new and unique.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments are moderated. Please read our guidelines for posting comments.