Review: Turn Of The Screw, Dermot McLaughlin Productions, York Theatre Royal, until Saturday. Box office: 01904 623568 or at

IT starts with the set, designed by Sara Perks, who happens to be the artistic designer for Shakespeare's Rose Theatre in York this summer too.

She frames Henry James's Victorian ghost story in an old gilt-edged picture frame, tilted at an angle to make it unsettling throughout, in keeping with the warped psychological perspective of James's 1898 Gothic novella.

Unlike its now more successful love child, Susan Hill's The Woman In Black, the story does not build intriguingly but inexorably through linear momentum and teasing twists to a conclusion that explains everything.

Instead, as much mystery pervades Turn Of The Screw at the finale as at the outset, and it is for you, dear reader, to decide what and who may or may not be "real" amid the clouds of doubts.

Tim Luscombe's new adaptation for Dermot McLaughlin Productions does not take the linear path. Instead, Janet Dibley's Governess will be our narrative guide as we travel back and forth between her troubled past and even more troubled present. This device has worked elsewhere, but here it does not have the vital accumulative impact, its primary purpose being to muddy the already murky waters.

Significantly too, Daniel Buckroyd restricts his cast to only four, led by Dibley's Governess at 50 and 30 years earlier at a naive 20 as she arrives at Bly, an idyllic, if remote, country pile, to look after two orphaned children.

Then add Maggie McCarthy as Mrs Grose, the constant housekeeper through the years; Amy Dunn as Mrs Conray and her much, much younger, innocent orphaned self, Flora, under the Governess's strait-laced charge, and Elliot Burton and his creepy voice as The Man, a triple bill of the master of the house, a ghost and the very strange young orphaned boy, Miles.

As much as we may be seeking answers that may never come, so too is Mrs Conray, who is determined to grill The Governess on adult re-acquaintance with her, but she appears to have made up her mind already before her score-settling inquisition, no matter what she hears.

The debating point is the "presence" or otherwise of "The Others": the diabolic ghosts of Bly, two dead servants, Quint and Jessel, that so perturb The Governess with a malevolence that infects her yet may be nothing more than her fevered imagination at work.

Once Perks's off-kilter set has done its initial business of playing tricks with your mind, no further design twists occur. This is a missed opportunity, and instead, David W Kidd's dingy lighting and shadow-play and especially John Chambers' discordant soundscapes have to overplay their hand.

In part this is because Luscombe's version is text-heavy, dense with cunning, detailed dialogue, in his desire to be faithful to James's obfuscating tone, when modern tastes are satiated by Killing Eve. For all the clinical precision of the writing, directing and stately acting, Turn Of The Screw feels a little distant; out of reach; never sufficiently gripping dramatically or psychologically, in need of a more creeping, menacing intensity: a tighter turn of the screw.

Charles Hutchinson