The turn of the screw by Henry James, adapted by Jeffrey Hatcher, directed by Craig Walker, with Michelle Mallen and Walker. Presented by Theatre Kingston at the Tarragon Extra Space (30 Bridgman). Opens today (Thursday, June 13) and runs to June 29, Monday-Saturday 8 pm, mat Sunday 2:30 pm. $20, stu/srs $16, pwyc Sunday. 416-531-1827.
The future of theatre lies in finding a marriage between literature and theatre.So said Craig Walker when he was a young actor. The former Stratford and Shaw performer admits he was talking off the top of his head back then.
Twenty years later, as the new artistic director of Theatre Kingston, he's discovering the truth of his statement.
"Kingston has a very rich literary culture, but while people here are willing to take risks with their bedside reading, they're not inclined to do so in their theatre-going," says Walker on the phone from that city.
So, in an effort to capture this audience, Walker reached to the bookshelf for inspiration.
Last year the company brought an adaptation of James Joyce's mind-crippling Finnegans Wake to the Tarragon Extra Space, where it enjoyed critical and popular acclaim and challenged the unfair stereotype that regional theatre can't be innovative.
Walker hopes to repeat that success with an adaptation of Henry James's The Turn Of The Screw.
The Victorian thriller tells the story of a young governess hired by a mysterious gentleman to look after two young children. Discovering that her predecessor drowned, she begins to suspect that the children are possessed by evil spirits. It's never clear in the novella whether these ghosts are real or part of a fantasy fuelled by the young woman's repressed sexual feelings.
This unreliable narrator is what drew Walker to James.
"There is no omniscient narrator in James's work. The reader is entirely dependent on how the characters interpret their experiences," he says. "There is no way to be certain if what is happening is fact or part of their own fiction."
The novella has been adapted for stage and screen before, most notably in Benjamin Britten's opera and in a 1961 film, The Innocents, starring Deborah Kerr.
What frustrates Walker about these versions is that the ghosts are given a physical presence, whereas in the book you're never sure if they exist.
"Instead of a subtle portrait of psychological torment," he explains, "you get a conventional ghost story."
American Jeffrey Hatcher's script respects all of the book's ambiguities, forcing the audience to use their imaginations.
Only two actors are called for -- the governess (played by Kingston actress Michelle Mann in her Toronto debut), and a man (Walker himself) who plays all the other roles.
The show, which Walker also directs, debuted in Kingston in 1998; this is its second remount.
Last summer, after the success here of Finnegans Wake, the hometown crowd became more receptive to the company's experiments.
"After Toronto critics praised the show, people who may have thought our shows were odd or perverse came to accept that we're actually trying to push boundaries."