Theatre Wire: Why did you choose The Turn of The Screw?
Tanya Mathivanan: I had a really strong desire to do a scary story around Halloween because it seemed like a lot of fun, and also because it was an opportunity to open up the possibilities of the horror genre to Vancouver audiences.
It is also part of Aenigma Theatre’s mandate to produce emotionally and intellectually engaging, socially relevant pieces. The Turn of The Screw, other than being a traditional ghost story, is also a very psychologically astute story that deals with issues such as trauma, abuse, repression, oppression, and sexuality in an extremely accessible manner. The play is based on a 19th century novel by Henry James, which was considered to be one of the first overtly psychological novels, especially within the horror genre. Stephen King once wrote that horror often reflects the contemporary social anxieties and fears of a period. It is fascinating to me that so many of the issues explored in this play are still so relevant nearly 200 years later. I think that makes it a fun, thrilling, disturbing, and timely work.
Why did you cast these actors?
The Governess required someone who would be able to undergo an emotional roller coaster every night, and to essentially portray the complete journey of a haunted woman who loses her grip on sanity over just 80 minutes.
The other role required an actor who would be able to play multiple characters, making each one distinct without the aid of any props, costume changes, or over-the-top physicality. I needed to find an artist who could delve into the intricacies and emotional complexities of each character in order to make them as rounded as possible, and to enable the audience to easily distinguish between them.
Horror in theatre is challenging. What are you doing to try and make it scary?
I focus very much on tone and atmosphere. I wanted to create as tense and eerie an atmosphere as I could from the time the audience steps into the theatre. Everything from the set design, to the sound design, to the direction of the play itself is generally meant to give people a sense of unease and that there is something “off.” I have utilized unconventional staging to hopefully subvert people’s expectations of what they are about to see, as well as to create a more intimate, claustrophobic setting. The lighting design is a key part of creating the atmosphere, as well as driving the suspenseful tension in the story.
I also have a couple of other surprises in terms of staging that I will not give away in creating a few scares for people.
Why are people so interested in a story that is so old?
Most people love a good ghost story. … The Turn of the Screw is particularly interesting because it is one of the first stories that was also utterly ambiguous. We are never quite sure if the ghosts are real, or if the governess is just losing her mind. That ambiguity, in a way, is the scariest part of the play. Are these malicious spectres real? Or are people the true horrors? The novel was a great influence on the horror genre in subsequent centuries, especially the rise of psychological thrillers. It was certainly ahead of its time and its complexities have enabled it to remain one of the most beloved ghost stories in literature.
The Turn of the Screw runs November 6-10 at Studio 16, located at 1555 West 7th Avenue. Buy tickets now, or purchase tickets to this show and two more Theatre Wire Package shows and save 20% on your tickets. Choose tickets to 6 or more shows and save 30%. Tickets are automatically discounted when added to your cart. Check out all the shows that are part of the Theatre Wire Package and read up on how the Package works here.