First Night: Consolation in a fine start and perfect finish

`Turn of the Screw' Sadler's Wells London
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WILLIAM TUCKETT can blame nobody but himself for the sheer mind- numbing pointlessness of his new work for the Royal Ballet. He has based it on Henry James' nasty little novel about abused children, and even if we might dislike The Turn of the Screw, it has endured more than 100 years never out of print and repeatedly adapted for stage, screen and opera.

Then, Tuckett has enlisted the help of a gripping piece of music for 12 strings by Andrzj Panufnik. True, the composer thought he was evoking a cosmic tree, a symbol of life-nourishing beauty, but in fact its quiet, constantly reversing structure does serve here to suggest a hushed menace.

Next, Steven Scott as designer has provided a decor consisting of extremely handsome pictures of houses and gardens, projected onto gauze screens. True, they change too often for comfort, but that at least compensates for the frequent lack of movement.

Moreover, Tuckett has picked five of the strongest personalities in the company to play his leading roles, plus some rather superior walkers-on. But oh, how he wastes their talents.

Irek Mukhamedov as Quint deserves better than prowling around most of the time and raising a portentous arm. For some inexplicable reason, Bruce Sansom gets to play Miss Jessel, glaring and staring in a frock and a bald wig.

The other chief victims of Tuckett's eccentric ideas are Laura Morera and Ricardo Cervera as the children, and Zenaida Yanowsky, who does her best to give some sort of the sense to the governess.

But none of it means anything. Why transfer a novel to the stage unless you can add something to your model?

I could not help wondering whether Anthony Dowell, director of the Royal Ballet, thought his resignation had already taken effect. Otherwise, why did he not quash this monstrosity before it reached the stage?

The consolation of the evening was that the new work was preceded and followed by masterworks, Balanchine's Serenade and Ashton's Rhapsody. The latter sporting a terrific new cast; Viviana Durante and Carlos Acosta, both dancing with brilliance, joy and apparent ease. Perfect.