Mercury Theatre, Colchester
Although billed as ‘the classic ghost story’, and there are ghosts aplenty,(both real and imaginary) – this is a tale of intrigue. It is less a ‘who-done-it’ and more a ‘how-was-it-done’.
This well-known Henry James tale has had many adaptations since it was first published in 1898. Opening with a deception, we quickly realise that the governess has a past, and a suppressed secret which the adult Flora (Annabel Smith), her former charge, is determined to discover.
There follows a series of monologues expertly delivered by the cast of four who jump back and forth in time. In truth, the ‘horror’ of the tale lies in the morality, the inappropriate behaviour of the characters. Behaviour which would have been much more shocking when first published in Victorian times. The genuine shocks in this production were left to the sound and light technicians to deliver.
Young Flora’s determination to discover what happened to her brother Myles (Michael Hanratty) is the rope that holds this story together. Both actors expertly switching between their adult and child personas – none more so than Smith’s irritating but effective 8-year olds giggles!
The Governess (Carli Norris) drifts between her upstanding, present day, fifty-year-old self and the inexperienced twenty-year-old who had fantasies about her employer and a less than appropriate relationship with her young male charge. Throughout it all there is the voice of reason and propriety in the form of Mrs Grose (Maggie McCarthy) – the cook and effectively the only sensible grown up in the household.
Nor are the ghosts without impropriety. Lest there be any doubts about this they indulge in a graphic performance of immorality on stage. Horror of horrors, a governess and a man from below stairs!
I am still unconvinced whether the ghosts were real, or a fantasy conjured up by Carli Norris’ character. The former would lend some form of explanation to the ending, that later would indicate a truly deranged mind. But go and see for yourself and make up your own mind.