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The Governess

Published by: Steve Burbridge on 4th Jun 2013 | View all blogs by Steve Burbridge



The Governess – Darlington Civic Theatre

Patrick Hamilton’s recently rediscovered psychological thriller has been given a stylish new lease of life by Bill Kenwright and is currently undertaking a short tour, prior to a West End run.

Ethel Fry, the sinister titular Governess, takes up a position in the Drew household and proceeds to manipulate and deceive all around her. And when the Drew’s infant child vanishes, the house is thrown into further turmoil

Boasting a stellar cast, headed by Jenny Seagrove and Peter Bowles, and with beautifully authentic costumes and an excellent set that enhances the claustrophobic atmosphere of the house and the events which, subsequently, occur within it, I had high hopes for this production and really wanted to love it.

However, despite the sterling efforts of the acclaimed cast, a number of factors combined to diminish the potential of the piece. Firstly, the piece does not really sit comfortably in any one particular genre – it is a little too predictable and formulaic to be described as a psychological thriller. We know from a fairly early point that the Governess is the antagonist and that she is ‘involved’ with the master of the house and the disappearance of the infant (though in totally different ways!). Furthermore, she is nowhere near as sinister as Mrs Danvers (from Daphne du Maurier’s ‘Rebecca’) or as ominously chilling as Susan Hill’s ‘Woman in Black’.

Additionally, the way in which the piece is written deprives the audience of any real sense of suspense – too much is given away too soon and the denouement can only be described as rather underwhelming.

Most of the faults associated with this production are to be apportioned to Patrick Hamilton’s writing, although I would have expected a director with credentials as impressive as Roy Marsden’s to ensure that dialogue was delivered ‘out’. Unfortunately, I lost several of Peter Bowles’ lines due to them being directed upstage whilst his back was to the audience.

On the whole, The Governess is an inoffensive production which will appeal to fans of Victorian melodramas (although Hamilton’s other creation, ‘Gaslight’, is far superior) and it is a pleasant enough way to pass an evening. However, I do feel that, in the case of this particular production, style far outweighs substance.

Steve Burbridge.

Runs at Darlington Civic Theatre until Saturday 8th June then tours to Richmond Theatre, prior to the West End.

To book, telephone 01325 486 555 or log on to



1 Comment

  • Cameron Lowe
    by Cameron Lowe 5 years ago
    Ah, high expectations and disappointment are easy bedfellows. Thanks for the review, Steve.
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