The Turning of the Screw, 4 Stars

The Turning of the Screw
King’s Head Theatre
14th Feb to 10th March 2024

“Turning the Screw is a fascinating and nuanced exploration of a key point in the life of composer Benjamin Britten, exploring the dynamics of power, art and what it can mean to be vulnerable. This early example of power imbalances in the arts, follows the story of young star of the opera, choirboy David Hemmings, as he is welcomed into the home of Britten that he shares with his partner Peter Pears.”

Review by Richard Lambert, 4 Stars

The play takes one aspect of composer Benjamin Britten’s personal life and focuses on that. Britten, as a composer, has left a truly incredible legacy for musicality, but here we look specifically at his infatuation with teenage boys.

Continuing what appears to be a penchant for the LGBT+ genre, the King’s Head Theatre has programmed this second main production to also be LGBTQI+ along with opening their cabaret bar with FUTURE QUEERS by Alexis Gregory. Is this venue intending to become a replacement for ABOVE THE STAG? Will they engage an Artistic Director to captain this enterprise?

The play takes a little time to get going but then accelerates throughout and crescendos into the conclusion. It’s a powerful story, made even stronger by the fact that it’s true. Despite Britten’s incredible musical legacy, what’s speculated about since his death has been his relationship and friendship with adolescent boys. Taking on a muse, David Hemmings, and making him a star aged 12, was controversial. David Hemmings auditioned and, despite his questionable talent, gained the role, even beating Michael Crawford. However, once David hit puberty and his voice dropped, Britten allegedly cancelled the boy and moved onto new relationships with other boys. There was never any evidence of sexual impropriety but certainly behaviour that would raise both eyebrows and suspicion. All the while, his long-term partner, and friends and colleagues, watched from the side-lines.

It was suggested that Britten should marry his friend and colleague Imogen Holst, played here by Jo Wickham. With a nod to Julie Andrews and a very stiff upper-lip approach to the tempermental Britten, Jo Wickham’s Holst is quite delightful!

The strength in this production lies in the story and the singing. The story is powerful and unapologetically tells the tale of a troubled man who has genius and torment. But isn’t that the way with people who rise above their contemporaries and become famous? And the singing from this cast is glorious! Truly delightful!

The Set Design is 3 large portrait scrims and flown picture gallery mansion style empty painting frames. A curtain is also draped across of the main frames. The set and the story don’t quite connect and adding in additional modern LED strips around the frames was a little distracting and without discernible relevance. The support wires a little messy as not aligned or vertical. There was also a small stage within the stage but the steel deck was sharpie marked SL and SR but then positioned in reverse of Stage Right and Stage Left making a very confusing overall picture. This did telegraph an overly “fringe feel” to the production.

But despite this, the cast did a terrific job and this story is one that must be told! As director Tim McArthur said “challenging theatre is all about making people think and discuss what they have seen!”

Further Information

Turning the Screw is written by Kevin Kelly (The Milkman’s on His Way, The Old Courthouse, Brighton; The Battle of Bamber Bridge, Bamber Bridge) and directed by Tim McArthur (Into the Woods, Cockpit Theatre; Deeper and Deeper, Union Theatre).
Writer Kevin Kelly comments “We are delighted to announce the brilliant cast who will be taking this amazing piece of hidden LGBTQIA+ history to a brand new theatre in London!”

Director Tim McArthur comments “There is something very exciting about returning to a piece of new writing – being able to reevaluate what worked well and to identify how we might tell the story in a stronger, more emotional and more dramatic way. We must tell the story in a sensitive manner that is not offensive to today’s society but we also want to portray an honest account that represents both sides of the characters’ journeys and leaves the audience questioning the situation and experience. For me, that is what challenging theatre is all about, making people think and discuss what they have seen!”

Benjamin Britten Gary Tushaw (he/him)
David Hemmings Liam Watson (he/him)
Peter Pears Simon Willmont (he/him)
Imogen Holst Jo Wickham (she/her)
Basil Coleman Jonathan Clarkson (he/him)
Harry Morris Sam McHale (he/him)

Title: Turning the Screw
Dates Wednesday 14th February – Sunday 10th March 2024
Location King’s Head Theatre, Islington Square 116 Upper Street, London, N1 1QN
How to Get There The nearest stations are Angel, on the Northern line, and Highbury & Islington on the Victoria line, National Rail and Overground.
Box Office Tickets are available from £10-£45 at

Writer and Producer Kevin Kelly (he/him)
Director Tim McArthur (he/him)

Guidance Ages 16+. Touches on themes of emotional abuse, paedophilia and victim shaming
Running Time 90 minutes (no interval)
Instagram @k2prodltd @mcarthur.tim #TTS
Twitter @k2prodltd @Tim_McArthur #TTS