The Innocents at The Little Theatre in Leicester is a ghost story ideal for the lead up to Halloween. Based on Henry James’ novel The Turn of the Screw and adapted for the stage by William Archibald, the play tells the story of a governess, Miss Giddens who is hired to care for orphans Flora and Miles by their estranged uncle. Living in Bly House with the children and the housekeeper Mrs Grose, she encounters increasingly inexplicable events, and begins to question whether the house may be haunted by the spirits of the governess and valet who worked there before her.
The first thing that strikes me with this production is the beautiful stage design by Gem Greaves. The lavish drawing room set with its imposing tall windows, opulent curtains, splendid harpsichord, and all-round well-to-do furnishings, evokes a strong sense of time and place. This is certainly one of the Little Theatre’s best-looking sets.
When coupled with the atmospheric lighting design of Jenny Harding and Martin Scott, the space smoothly transitions between welcoming with an early morning warmth to spooky with an eery evening glow. And, of course, no Victorian ghost story is complete without an abundance of flickering candles and this show is no exception. They are incorporated well into the set and lighting design to give the show a truly spooky feel.
Amy Rainbow’s portrayal of Flora is full of energy and character. The Innocents is very dialogue-heavy, and Amy’s ability to deliver the lines both accurately and with emotion is impressive. For most of the show Amy’s Flora is spritely and youthful, running rings around the adult characters and is a delight to watch. But she is able to deftly switch into the spookier side of the role, too.
Amy has wonderful chemistry with Daniel Bettles who plays her brother Miles, and they are convincing as siblings. Daniel plays his role with great energy. The role of Miles has a fair amount of creepiness, which Daniel delivers superbly in both his physical mannerisms and tone of voice. One moment playing the role with a cheeky boyishness, the next he is delivering lines as if possessed (or is he?).
The governess Miss Giddens is played by Amber Goddard who, in my view, excels at carrying the emotional weight of the story. We see her character fall into ever greater levels of hysteria. Amber does an excellent job of playing with the ambiguity of the story’s plot making the audience question whether she is truly seeing things or is instead going mad. Being relatively near the front of the auditorium, I could see that Amber was fully embodying the role with fear and confusion in her eyes. The level of intensity Amber gives the role is impressive and I can only hope that she still has her voice left by the end of the play’s run!
Karen Gordon rounds the cast off in her role as Mrs Grose. She plays the foil to Amber’s Miss Giddens well, bringing a grounded sensibility to the role. Over the course of the play, we learn that Mrs Grose perhaps knows more than she first lets on about the potentially otherworldly goings on at Bly Manor. But, despite this, Karen portrays the character as kindly and to be acting in the best interests of the children. Both Amber and Karen have excellent diction, which is always a relief in such wordy plays.
Overall, Diani Gatenby Davies’ direction works well. There is a well-executed build-up of tension and none of the ‘scare’ moments are overworked or played for laughs. Davies ensures all the elements, from set and lights to sound and actors work in tandem and never out stage each other. The use of space is effective ensuring that movement across the stage is done with purpose and at times aids in heightening the tension.
However, I did miss some of the dialogue due to its sheer quantity and speed. A slower pace of delivery would benefit the show and make some parts of the story easier to follow. Given that the show has a relatively short runtime, some of the lines should be allowed to ‘breathe’ more.
Overall, The Innocents is the perfect play to get you in the mood for Halloween. A superbly spooky combination of stunning sets, amazing actors, and terrific tension make for a very enjoyable, if at times unsettling, play.
Running at The Little Theatre until 28 October.
Production images credit. Dave Morris
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