Set in 1954, Kevin Kelly’s Turning the Screw finds the great composer Benjamin Britten at the height of his creative powers, but woefully behind schedule in delivering his new opera in time for the Aldeburgh Festival.

He and his long term partner Peter Pears are also attracting the attention of a paranoid police force intent on rooting out "high profile homosexuals".

To counter “unpleasant” rumours he suggests that Imo, his musical PA (and the daughter of Gustav Holst) marries Peter: a brutish and insensitive suggestion to make to a woman of a "certain age” which she turns down with dignity.

Ham & High: Gary Tushaw as Benjamin Britten and Simon Willmont as Peter PearsGary Tushaw as Benjamin Britten and Simon Willmont as Peter Pears (Image: Polly Hancock)

Britten (a superb Gary Tushaw) hasn’t yet heard his work sung, so holds auditions to recruit a voice to carry the role of Miles in The Turn of The Screw.

On instinct, he picks chorister David Hemmings, the future movie star, who sings like and angel but talks like a costermonger. He becomes infatuated with the 12-year-old, even sharing a bed with him during a thunderstorm, assuring Pears that “nothing happened”.

Fortunately, he is supported his small group of friends and Peter (perfectly played by Simon Willmont) all love him and protect him. As his obsession with Hemmings grows, they counsel discretion and distance, but are rewarded by Britten's brutish, narcissistic behaviour.

Under Tim McArthur's deft direction both cast and script are magnificent at untangling difficult questions of power imbalance, manipulation and paedophilia, getting the tone and emphasis absolutely right.

Ham & High: The play partly deals with Britten's obsession with young boysThe play partly deals with Britten's obsession with young boys (Image: Polly Hancock)

The most challenging role is Liam Watson’s Hemmings. It was never going to be easy for a 20-something, well-muscled adult to play a knowing 12-year-old Cockney urchin. Unfortunately, the temptation to occasionally channel Norman Wisdom was too strong, but Turning The Screw is otherwise a must for theatre and music lovers alike.

The brand-new King’s Head theatre is now a welcoming if subterranean space: with delightful staff and an excellent auditorium with perfect sightlines and acoustics.

But the overall feel of the place needs some TLC, as the route-march from front-door to seat made me feel like an urban explorer in a decommissioned Slough office block.

Turning The Screw runs at the Kings Head Islington until March 10.