JANET Dibley will play The Governess in Henry James’s ghost story Turn Of The Screw on her return to York Theatre Royal from Tuesday.

The Yorkshire actor from Chapel Allerton was last seen there in October 2017 in Agatha Christie’s A Murder Is Announced, playing Letitia Blacklock, in whose home that murder would take place.

Now she is starring in another nerve-tingling drama, adapted by Tim Luscombe from James’s book and directed by Daniel Buckroyd.

The story opens in 1840, when a young governess agrees to look after two orphaned children in Bly, a seemingly idyllic country house. Shortly after her arrival, however, she realises they are not alone. There are others: the ghosts of Bly’s troubled past.

The Governess will risk everything to keep the children safe, even if it means giving herself up to "The Others". Years later, confronted by the past she is compelled to account for what actually happened to her and the innocents under her protection.

“I’d never seen it on stage, though I’d read the story, and when I was cast, I started to research Henry James and his brother, the psychologist William James, and their sister, the diarist Alice, who was consigned to a lunatic asylum, which must have been an influence on her brother's writing," says Janet.

"She was 'unusually close' to William, struggling to come to terms with when he married, and she suffered life-long health problems that were dismissed as hysteria. Their father had health problems too, suffering from hallucinations."

Janet's research has been invaluable in helping her to build up her portrayal of The Governess. "If you're taking a play out on the road, you need some propulsion, and it's reading this kind of information that gives me that engine, which I draw on a lot during the run," she says.

"That's why I do it because it gives me a chance to get it right, or at least to get closer each time, so it changes.

"There are different stages of working, and I knew when I said 'yes' to the role that it would feel terrifying but I also knew I would find something in it, and it's given me confidence that I can do other things.

"I haven't done costume dramas for a long time – I did Shakespeare roles when I was younger – but now I want to capitalise on it as I'm older."

Luscombe's adaptation of Turn Of The Screw presents its own challenges. "Tim starts at the end when The Governess is 50 and we then go back to the beginning of the story in her 20s," says Janet.

"There's something about her seemingly ordinariness that's interesting to play; her change; her madness. It's Hamlet in a skirt, and it's as close as I'll get to a psychotic journey, but it's also very logical too: you can see her journey to where she gets to.

"It's a story with all that Victorian repression and tragic consequences to it; it's like an opera and I'm loving the chance to swish around in it."

She notes the influence of Henry James's ambiguity on his story: "H e was ambiguous himself, being homosexual or not, but we're not allowed to be mysterious today, by comparison."

At 60, Janet has the desire to communicate, to reach people, to say things, "but I've felt frustration as a performer and I have for some time, but doing this play assuages that because I get to say things beautifully as it's written by Henry James, who puts it better than I ever could. It really is a privilege to say his words."

Broadening her thoughts, Janet continues: "Ultimately, as an actor, what you do has to be for the audience's benefit. You have to communicate it; you can't keep it for yourself, and I've come to terms with what I do. I fought it for years, but what I do is communicate turmoil and make sense of it, and that's the power of theatre."

To assist her, she can always call on the wise words of Scarborough playwright and theatre director Alan Ayckbourn, contained in a three-page letter to Janet after she asked him for advice when struggling to attain a laugh from a particular line. In a nutshell, "go for the truth", he said. How true.

Dermon McLaughlin Productions present Turn Of The Screw, York Theatre Royal, May 21 to June 1. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk