Turning the Screw: Unveiling the Intricate World of Benjamin Britten

March 9, 2024

Gary Tushaw as Benjamin Britten.
Photo credit: Polly Hancock

Turning the Screw, a compelling drama by Kevin Kelly, explores the complex world of renowned composer Benjamin Britten at the King's Head Theatre. This dramatic masterwork deftly weaves themes of creativity, power dynamics, and the complexities of adult-child relationships into its examination of the subject's problems with popularity, scandal, and homosexuality—all of which were illegal at the time. The play highlights both Britten's steadfast love for his work and the difficulties he overcame in his personal life.

Gary Tushaw as Benjamin Britten and Simon Willmont as Peter Pears.
Photo credit: Polly Hancock

The story unfolds as Britten searches for a young boy to play Miles in his opera adaptation of The Turn of the Screw, eventually becoming enamored with 12-year-old David Hemmings. Gary Tushaw portrays Britten powerfully and genuinely, capturing the essence of a man torn between his passion for music and the expectations society has for him in his personal life. 

The balanced approach to storytelling in Turning the Screw is among its most admirable features. It gives the audience the opportunity to draw their own conclusions by presenting both sides of the issue without making any judgments or expressing personal thoughts. The drama gains depth from this storytelling technique, which also makes it memorable and thought-provoking.

The play moves along at a good clip, so no one topic or aspect takes center stage. Rather, they are skillfully interwoven to create an engrossing picture of Britten's life as he worked on his masterwork, The Turn of the Screw. Through a creative journey, the audience sees how Britten's interactions with Hemmings not only served as inspiration for some of his most well-known works but also as a source of inspiration for him.

Britten's obsession with young boys.
Photo credits: Polly Hancock

The space of the theater is expertly used by Tim McArthur's direction, producing an eye-catching experience. The novel gains depth through the deft portrayal of the protagonists' fleeting moments of longing for one another. The transparent windows on Laura Harling's set design, which depict ghosts from the past and characters watching from different corners of the stage, successfully convey the mood of the scene. The music gives the production a deeper emotional quality, especially Pears' melancholy songs.

Not only does Turning the Screw tell the story of the difficult parts of Britten's life, but it also honors his tenacity, inventiveness, and love of writing. The piece does a good job of illuminating his struggles without sensationalizing or voyeuristically taking advantage of them. Rather, it offers a complex and sympathetic portrait of a guy who finds it difficult to strike a balance between his personal and creative goals.

Photo credit: Polly Hancock

Apart from the outstanding acting and reflective narrative, the play's direction and composition are praiseworthy. Even if the plot has darker overtones, they are nonetheless able to create a cozy and lighthearted atmosphere. Turning the Screw is a captivating and delightful experience for the audience because of this equilibrium.

Gary Tushaw as Benjamin Britten and Liam Watson as David Hemmings.
Photo credit: Polly Hancock

The play explores the power dynamics and complexities of their relationship, raising questions about innocence and imbalance. While the script has some flaws, strong performances and engaging themes make Turning the Screw a thought-provoking and visually captivating theatrical experience. Turning the Screw will leave you thinking about the subject matter even after the play's completion. It invites contemplation on the subjects of love, creativity, and the intricacies of interpersonal relationships. A tribute to the theater's ability to delve deeply into the human condition and inspire viewers to take an active interest in complicated subjects is Turning the Screw.

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