Camdram credits galore: Adapting and directing The Turn of the Screw

Alice Mottram 11 May 2015

Henry James' novella 'The Turn of the Screw' has long been a favourite with directors on camera and stage alike. The gothic tale of a haunted governess, it is psychologically thrilling. Greg Forrest and Jocelyn Major have adapted the novella for the stage, and are directing it at the ADC. 

The Turn of the Screw has been adapted as a play before, but you’ve adapted and directed this production yourselves. Why did you want to do your own version?

J: I knew other versions existed, but I hadn’t seen or read them. I enjoyed the book so much that I wanted to do my own take on it, my feelings towards the book and how I interpreted it. Cambridge is such a good place to do theatre, it is the kind of place that will let you do that.

G: I am really into the original novel, but also horror films. It was a really good opportunity to explore both.

Have you found yourselves always revising your own work as you’ve been rehearsing?

G: Completely. My favourite edit was the line ‘no idea, dear’. For some reason, I’d read the script aloud and so had Jocelyn, but we had both missed it. We must have thought that ‘no idea, dear’ was completely valid writing, when it is really terrible.

J: It is interesting how it sounds very different to how you think it will. Pauses, in your head, are very different to on stage. It has been a learning experience.

Earlier you said that you enjoy horror films. Would you say that has influenced the artistic direction of the production?

G: I don’t know where the fine line between tropes and cliches is, but there are a few tropes that we internalised into the script. But, some things will work on the screen and not in theatre. There are very few good horror plays out there, which I think is odd. You go into a dark room and people can do weird things and make you uncomfortable. I don’t know why that isn’t exploited more. There are some moments which have been inspired by horror films, and will work on stage. It is unsettling.

J: It is something we wanted to bring from the book. It is psychological, a ghost story with a twist.

Have you found it challenging to maintain a level of ambiguity, as to whether the governess is mad or not?

G: Helena Blair, playing the governess, has been fantastic in dealing with our levels of uncertainty. To play the character well you have to know what their motivations are, so maybe in her head she has come down on a side. But hopefully the way it is communicated, people will leave with questions.

Have you retained a Victorian aesthetic to the production?

G: Hopefully the set dressing will be quite fun. There are plenty of weird objects that kind of look back out at you.

J: If it had been contemporary we would have written it very differently. It is quite interesting trying to maintain that sense of Victorian dialogue. You occasionally find that modernisms creep in.

G: There is some dialogue from the novella that wouldn’t make sense on stage. The late show is a great slot, because essentially The Turn of the Screw gets going and stops very quickly. To be able to have that in a neat space of time is nice because the build up doesn’t drag. Really, it isn’t a three hour play because there is no subplot.

What can people expect when they come and see the play? 

G: I want the hairs on the back of people’s necks to stand on end. 

J: I want people to leave with questions. 

G: They can come and see it with a friend and debate about it afterwards. Or come on their own, and walk home in the dark. 

The Turn of the Screw is at the ADC, 11pm from Wednesday to Saturday 16th May. Tickets can be bought here.

All photos are J Hjorth.