The Turn of the Screw, Britten Studio, Snape

A taut, angry production on the composer's home turf finds thrills aplenty still in an adaptation of James's ghost story

The "soft, thick light" described in Old Suffolk, Henry James's memoir of his 1879 journey to Aldeburgh and seeing the submerged skyline of medieval Dunwich, hung low over Snape last weekend.

Though premiered in Venice, Britten's adaptation of James's novella, The Turn of the Screw, belongs to this area, just as Bly, the estate in the story, belongs to its enigmatic landscape of marsh and field. Written and rehearsed in Aldeburgh, this is Britten's masterpiece: serenely complete in its circling 12-note variations, yet permeable enough to permit a variety of responses to its theme of "drowned innocence" and its unreliable narrator.

Last month, David McVicar's production of The Turn of the Screw returned to the Coliseum. Dustcloths, fallen leaves and "that kiss" was how I filed it away two years ago, next to Deborah Warner's equivocal Royal Opera House production, Katie Mitchell's dreamlike film and Jonathan Kent's startling 1950s update for Glyndebourne. I thought I'd seen it all: Quints pale or vital; governesses fond or frigid; mildewed mirrors and Gladstone bags; the comfortable hum of a mid-century train set, ambiguities in every shade of grey. But Neil Bartlett's taut, angry production for Aldeburgh Music concluded with a kiss more shocking than McVicar's, as the governess fastened her lips to those of her dead charge, exultant in grief.

"You read into it the evil that you know," James said of his novella. For Bartlett, that evil is the pitiless certainty of the moral crusader, here an accidental murderess. Slight of figure, pretty of face, and several inches shorter than Crispin Lord's long-legged, insouciant Miles, Anna Devin's governess became the villain – scribbling feverishly in her diary, collating evidence, a suffocating, desperate termagant – while Lawrence Wiliford's spry, seductive Quint was more force of nature than force of evil. Played out on a tight, bare, square stage in the Britten Studio, with the 12 instrumentalists of the Britten Pears Orchestra at floor-level, Bartlett's production reversed the standard practice of stripping back to the climax. The heavy, ugly furniture of schoolroom and servants' quarters stood neatly lined against the walls of the studio in Act I, then crowded the stage in Act II, placed inconveniently, haphazardly, reflecting the disintegration of order.

Cheeks whipped coarse and red by Suffolk salt-spray, Catharin Carew's strong, clearly sung Mrs Grose played to the snobbery of James's original; turning a blind, bovine eye to Miles's highly sexualised behaviour with his sister, Flora (Merrin Lazyan), and a subservient one to the governess. Flora's jealousy and suspicion were immediate. Who better for her to turn to than Miss Jessel (Norah King), with her heroic misery, weed-wet hair and dragging, menstrual figures for low strings? Compelling in an opera house, the yearning, turning, cloying figures of Britten's score had unnerving intensity in the small space. This is, after all, a chamber opera, and under the conductor Garry Walker the young singers and instrumentalists delivered a perceptively detailed, lyrical performance, with exceptional work from flautist Laura Pou and percussionist Pedro Segundo.

For those with a strong stomach, Mariele Neudecker's installation, Stay Forever and Never Come Back – the first work to be created in the Aldeburgh Residencies for Visual Artists – offered further commentary. Here was a miniature landscape of abandoned buildings and blasted trees, crumbling proscenium arches and latent violence, a looped and reversed tape of Britten's score, and three films in which half-seen figures move, their settings echoed in the view from the windows of the Dovecote Studio. Neudecker's installation will remain in Snape until December, while Aldeburgh Music enjoys a Kings Place residency this month.

Sadly, Bartlett's production is not part of it. Rehearsing so intensively for something few will have seen may seem like folly, though not for the young artists. And for those who watched them, this Turn of the Screw was another disturbing trick of the light on an endlessly fascinating pool, another transgressive kiss.

Aldeburgh Music, Kings Place, London (020-7520 1490), 11-14 Nov

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
    How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

    How to make your own Easter egg

    Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

    Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

    Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

    Cricket World Cup 2015

    Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
    The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing