The Turn Of The Screw, Glyndebourne, Lewes <!-- none onestar twostar threestar fourstar fivestar -->

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The Independent Culture

The house, garden and lake at Glyndebourne are spookily perfect as a backdrop for The Turn of the Screw - indeed, the home-movie played during the prologue of Britten's opera shows the children, Flora and Miles, playing in the East Sussex estate's very grounds.

Inside the theatre, meanwhile, Jonathan Kent and his designer Paul Brown probe the psychology of the piece in extraordinary ways. Theirs is the theatre of the mind made physical - and disturbing.

In one of many brilliant theatrical coups, the Governess's train journey to the home of her charges takes place in dazzling sunshine, but when she arrives at Bly, it's Christmas, and a child's train steams out of the wintry darkness to greet her. Not for the last time will a toy mirror the reality of the narrative. Flora's doll's house serves also as Bly, seen from the lake where the former governess, Miss Jessel, drowned.

Time and again, Kent and Brown draw together the worlds of child and adult. And time and again we're reminded that the Governess's hopes, fears, desires and sexual neuroses are played out through the children. We see through her eyes, and, in the case of Jessel's and Quint's ghosts, through her eyes only.

Through the gyrating and tilting of a wall of windows, Brown pulls off amazing tricks of light, reflection and shadow. Contrary motion revolves spirit furniture and props into place. The visual narrative is seamless, like a series of cinematic dissolves. In one amazing moment we are deposited by the lake and the wall of glass bears down on Miss Jessel, staring up from her watery grave. In the next scene, Flora is washing her hair, and Miles is enticed, dripping wet, from his bath by Quint. Thus "the ceremony of innocence" is played out. Quint and Jessel effectively watch over the children's sexual awakening.

It's a brilliant and deeply affecting show in which the stage imagery seems to spring from the strange half-lights of Britten's orchestra. Edward Gardner and his players lay them bare with wonderful clarity. Earthy bassoons and violas, mournful cello, the chime of harp and chilly glimmer of celeste all haunt the ear.

Kate Royal as the Governess is quite something. The voice is intoxicatingly true, but it's her descent into irrationality that is startlingly chronicled. In her cinched Fifties frocks (the production is set when the opera was composed), there's a sense of sexual hysteria reined in. But only just.

The children - Christopher Sladdin and Joanna Songi - convey a wonderful sense of growing up fast; there's a robust Mrs Grose in Anne-Marie Owen; Rachel Cobb conveys well the restless spirit of Miss Jessel; and Daniel Norman switches beautifully between the "conversational" style of the Prologue's "unknown man" and Peter Quint's ravings, leaving us in no doubt that they are essentially one and the same - the object of the Governess's desire.

Tonight (01273 813813; www.glyndebourne.com), then touring to 7 December

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