Sunday, 22 May 2022

Victorian chiller’s back for Halloween

THE chair of Henley Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society says she’s looking to take things in a

THE chair of Henley Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society says she’s looking to take things in a new direction — by putting on more smaller-scale productions at the group’s own rehearsal studio.

Located next door to the Kenton Theatre in New Street, the HAODS Studio is the venue for the society’s new production of The Innocents, based on Henry James’s classic 1898 novella The Turn of the Screw.

Written by William Archibald, the stage play was turned into a 1961 film starring Deborah Kerr that Cape Fear director Martin Scorsese later named among the 11 scariest movies of all time.

The HAODS version will run at the Studio from Thursday (October 27) to Saturday, October 29. Showtime is 7.45pm nightly.

The Innocents is being directed by Julie Huntington, who has been the chair of HAODS for the past four years. Last week the group celebrated its 95th anniversary with a dinner at Phyllis Court.

Looking ahead to next month, the next “full-scale” HAODS show is a production of Monty Python’s Spamalot, which is playing at the Kenton Theatre from Wednesday, November 16, to Saturday, November 19.

For now, though, Julie’s focus is entirely on The Innocents, which takes place in 1880 in the drawing room of Bly, a forbidding old manor house somewhere in England. A new governess, Miss Giddens, arrives to look after the orphaned brother and sister, aged 12 and eight respectively, who are the play’s title characters.

As eerie apparitions begin to appear and the children’s behaviour grows seemingly more bizarre, the governess begins to wonder about the fate of the previous governess, Miss Jessel, and her sadistic lover, Peter Quint. She fears for her own sanity and that of the children.

“We will be performing this play in the round,” says Julie. “So you will actually be invited into the drawing room at Bly and be sitting among the actors as they weave the story.”

Despite the play’s spooky subject matter, its proximity to Halloween is just a coincidence, according to Julie.

“I hadn’t thought about it until someone else told me!” she laughs. “It’s actually timed to go over half-term because there’s a theatre school that use it, but not during the day on a Thursday and a Friday, so because it’s half-term we can build the set.”

The timing is also handy for the youngest cast members — Sophia Dowsett, nine, and Max Riley, 14.

“The children are amazing,” says Julie. “Sophia’s only just turned nine and her character in the play, Flora, is eight. She was upset. She said: ‘Is it all right? Can I still play her now I’m nine?’ ”

Julie, who has been a member of HAODS since 1994, has previously acted alongside her own granddaughter in a production of The Sound of Music — in which her son also starred.

“That kickstarted my granddaughter off with it,” she says. “She’s obsessed with it now.”

It’s with an eye to the future that HAODS is starting to focus more on Studio-based “fringe” productions like The Innocents.

“This is part of what we’re trying to promote,” says Julie. “I want people to start thinking ‘I wonder if there’s anything on at the theatre? Oh, what’s on at the cinema? Oh, I wonder if there’s anything on at the Studio?’

“Our fringe productions are the things that will make us money because we won’t have so many overheads. And then that will help us put more productions on and be able to draw more people in — especially younger people — and put more diverse shows on.”

Tickets for The Innocents are £11 and can be booked at www.

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