The blog

Creating Imagery for The Turn of the Screw 17

By Open Air Theatre


The marketing image for a theatre production needs to satisfy a complex brief: to represent this particular production; to give a potential audience a flavour of the production aesthetic or themes (to give them a sense of what they are buying into); to be flexible in how it’s used in different marketing formats (for example, a leaflet, website banner or even the side of a bus), and to capture the imagination of a potential audience to translate their attention into ticket sales. The challenge when creating an image for a new production is that, at the point that the image is required, very little may be known about the production, requiring a certain flexibility in how the image represents the work.

Developing the Brief

For The Turn of the Screw, the marketing process started with the team reading the original Henry James novella, and listening to recordings of the Benjamin Britten opera. We then researched the artwork created for previous interpretations of the story, on stage (plays and opera), film and television - the objective being that we didn’t want to recreate something which has gone before, but rather to give our production an identity of its own.

Armed with this research, and accompanied by a designer from the agency Feast Creative, we met with the director (Timothy Sheader) and production designer (Soutra Gilmour), to learn of their vision for the production; what themes interested them; the production design aesthetic (style of costumes, period, colour palettes etc); and to gain their response to the research gathered. This led to a creative brief:

  • Bleak - but bright
  • Mono feel, but not black and white
  • Wide expansive landscape; flat; marshes
  • References: Skandi Noir; The Piano; Lady Macbeth
This led to the decision that the object of the image should be the lone figure of the Governess travelling towards the start of her story. Feast Creative sketched an interpretation of the brief which, once agreed, was realised by the marketing team.


Realising the Brief

After selecting a model, a costume was sourced at CosProp with the help of Hannah from their ladies’ department, and a travelling case hired from the National Theatre.


The location was critical to the shoot, and after extensive online research, we decided to focus our attention on the Suffolk coast around Aldeburgh. The area offered different landscapes – heathland, marshes, coastal – and there was a nice link with Benjamin Britten who lived in Aldeburgh from 1942 until his death in 1976 (The Turn of the Screw was written in 1954). The National Trust came to our assistance with the offer of Dunwich Heath and Beach, which offered so many photographic opportunities. Working with the National Trust team at Dunwich Heath and Beach also gave us access to facilities which would make the shoot manageable on a bright, but freezing, January afternoon! We selected two locations and were blessed with some stunning skies, incredible light, and even an amazing murmuration of starlings as our shoot drew to a close.

Marianne Dunwich Heath

Supporting the image

On the day of the photoshoot, executed by Oliver Rosser from Feast Creative, we also decided to film some footage so that we could build an associated trailer. We created a storyboard with the brief that this would be a short, 20 second teaser to support the image (albeit using a slightly adjusted costume). Without a recording from the opera to use for the sound bed (because of Rights restrictions), we decided to use the children’s nursery rhyme Lavender’s Blue, which features in the Britten score. Two young students from Stagecoach were approached to record this, and the combination of this and the natural ambience recorded on the shoot day, created an eerie atmosphere.


Feast Creative worked on the photographic and filmed assets in post-production, although little was needed to adjust the natural qualities. With leaflet, poster, print ads and digital banners created and approved by Timothy Sheader, Soutra Gilmour and English National Opera, work then commenced on creating imagery for As You Like It, thereby starting the process all over again!

Add a comment

Please note that all comments are moderated. Your email address will not be displayed and will never be shared with anyone.