Gary Cook will be hoping to send a chill through his audiences as the company takes to the stage with his production of The Turn of the Screw.
The stage adaptation of the gothic ghost story by Henry James comes from Ken Whitmore. The Southwick Players will be delivering its very special frisson in the Barn Theatre, Southwick from March 7-10.
The year is 1873. A young woman, Miss Grey, arrives at a remote country house and is engaged as governess to two orphaned children, Miles and Flora. Miss Grey settles in with her duties, and all seems well until the children begin to act strangely.
And then she begins to see ghosts... The trouble is that no one else seems to see them.
Director Gary said: “We put forward ideas for plays we want to do, and this is one that I have had dear to my heart for a long time, ever since I was a child and saw the movie The Innocents. It is a really scary film, but it is not a horror film. It is definitely a gothic ghost story, and it influenced me very deeply.
“It is just so visual. The whole movie is a series of vignettes, and that is one of the attractions of it, very starkly shot, black and white obviously, but very beautifully shot.
“ I loved the idea of the pictures telling the story as much as the words, and it just always hung around at the back of my mind. I was looking for something for us to do and I put this forward. I found this version. I know nothing of the playwright, but it condenses it all down to a single set.”
Inevitably, for director and cast alike, the ghosts are the big challenge.
“You have to think how are the ghosts going to appear? We don’t want to have them looking too much like cartoons or looking too zombified. It was all about how we are going to physically represent the ghosts, but fortunately we are very much helped by the story. Henry James wrote an exploration of the psychology of one of the main characters, and there is always this ambiguity as to whether she is actually seeing the ghosts or not. There is always some little doubt whether she is going mad or hysterical or whether it really is a straightforward haunting.”
Ambiguity is absolutely central to the whole thing: “I dug out my original notes from when I was thinking about doing this, and one word I had written in big bold felt pen was ambiguity. You have got to make sure that the audience is never sure. You have got to be careful not to make it obscure, but you have got to always make sure that there is that element of doubt in it all the time.”
And so far, so good.
“The reaction we have been having, obviously so far without costume and lighting and sound, is that it is going to chill the spine.
“Whatever you think is actually happening, you will think that there is certainly something very odd going on in this house, and whatever you think is actually happening, the implications are horrible.”
Gary believes it is also important to look at the piece in the context of the heritage it established and all the things that have since followed in a similar vein.
“The Woman in Black was directly influenced by this, and I think it has also indirectly influenced other things like The Others, that psychological kind of ghost thriller.”
The venue and dates are the Barn Theatre, Southwick Street, Southwick, March 7-10, 7.30pm. Tickets £11 from 01273 597094 or southwickplayers.org.uk.