"Atmospheric Drama in Stunning Setting"
by Cheryl Rowlands for remotegoat on 22/10/17

I was really looking forward to reviewing this production as I am a huge fan of this story by Henry James and Red Rope Theatre did not disappoint. Directed by Matt Grinter, there was a lovely start outside the Chapel at the beautiful setting of Arnos Vale Cemetary with Douglas and Flora, although a tad awkward for the audience just stood with bags, etc and then not really knowing when to enter the Chapel and sit down. That aside, it was lovely to hear Douglas start to set the scene, telling Flora the story behind Bly, then the Governess taking up the narrative.

There was clever use of a child’s outfit on a hanger and a string puppet to symbolise the children, worked and voiced by Lois Baldry and Zach Powell. It was a little strange at first but once you settled into the idea, it was quite ingenious and worked well. A sheet was cleverly utilised to represent the lake, and a table amongst other props and a lighted doll’s house was also used to great effect.

Co-Founder of Red Rope Theatre and responsible for the Literary Adaptation, Rebecca Robson played the central character of the Governess telling the story of how she came to Bly and her experiences there. She had the lion’s share of the dialogue and gave a wonderful performance, especially with the audience being literally within touch. She told the story with an intensity of a woman re-living a lonely and frightening experience in a house full of dark secrets. As she told her story, you could really share in her sense of fear and trepidation.

Lois Baldry played four different characters, Flora, Gross the Maid, little Florence and the creepy Miss Jessell, the former Governess. When Miss Jessell appeared shrouded in black cloak and hood, you could really feel the atmosphere run through the audience. When she turned around to face them, the pretty young face of Lois, spoiled the effect a little. I would have preferred her to be wearing a black veil so she could see to walk but the audience could not see her face which would have enhanced the effect of the ghostly apparition. She wore some beautiful sparkling diamond rings which were fine for her character as Flora, but out of keeping, I felt, with the character of the Maid and proved, for me at least, to be slightly distracting as they glinted in the lights. She did a wonderful job of keeping all four characters alive.

Douglas, young Miles and the evil Peter Quint were played to great effect by Zach Powell. He was strong and had great presence on stage. His portrayal of Quint was eerie and menacing and you could really sense the fear the Governess felt when dancing only to look up and see Quint. He was a great presence throughout and there was a wonderfully eerie moment when Peter Quint appeared in shadow form, and clever lighting of a white sheet projected his image behind the Governess. When she pulled back the sheet, no-one was there. This was a beautifully orchestrated piece of theatre, spoiled to some degree only by the sound of “Quint’s” shoes walking away on the stone tiled floor of the Chapel, something which proved to be an issue throughout the entire production. Perhaps some felt pads on the undersoles would have helped to deaden (no pun intended!) the sounds of shoes?

There was a truly lovely touch in the use of the train with the steam being simulated by clever use of child’s building blocks spun round and passed between the actors. Simple, and most effective. Credit should be given to the sound effects and wonderful soundtrack by Oliver Thomas. Other Production Team members were Jenny Davies (set), Mark Rydan (Technician), and Poster Design (Rhys Williams) and it was clear that both cast and crew had worked hard to make this a wonderfully enjoyable and atmospheric piece of theatre.

All in all, a wonderful first night of this lovely production. Very creepy and atmospheric. I loved it.

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