FIRST appearing in 1898, Henry James’ novella has been profusely adapted for television, stage and on film.

Classified as gothic fiction and ghost story, the novella focuses on Miss Grey, a new young governess caring for two children at a remote estate, who becomes convinced that the property is haunted.

She sees the ghosts of her predecessor and a valet, both now dead, who had a sexual relationship. It leads her to believe they are exerting a malevolent influence on the children, causing her to become obsessed with saving them. James brilliantly created an ambiguous story offering the reader a sense of confusion and suspense.

It has prompted arguments as to the nature of the evil suggested and whether or not the ghosts are real. Are they the imaginings of a deluded mind or do they arise from sexual frustration?

The director’s major decision is whether to present the ghosts visually or to suggest them through shadows and leave it to the audiences’ imagination.

This production uses the former thereby losing those shock moments which cause hairs to be raised. The adaptation used for this production does not allow for a slow build up of Miss Grey’s mental disintegration. Hysteria is reached far too quickly and melodrama takes over.

However despite the faults of the script the cast turn in excellent performances. Keziah Israel captures well the dual persona of Miss Grey – the practical organiser and the obsessive guardian angel. She shares much of the play with Kate Stoner who gives a solid performance as the housekeeper, Mrs. Grose.

Nina Hayward and Bertie Atkinson handle well the difficult, ambiguous roles of the children – innocence touched with mystery.

Subtle lighting and understated haunting music create atmospheric tension. The use of the folk song about the sinister magpie was a neat touch.

Barrie Jerram