Touring – reviewed at Yvonne Arnaud, Guildford
Guest reviewer: Heather Chalkley
Today Gaslighting is a familiar phrase used by psychologist and domestic abuse organisations. The origins of that phrase are this very play, a dark psychological thriller. Patrick Hamilton’s plot is elegantly re-created by a talented cast, focusing on the torment of an emotionally abused Victorian wife.
Bella (Charlotte Emmerson) seems on the point of hysteria throughout most of the play, with waves of self-doubt and confusion, intermingled with moments of clarity, hatred and manic joy. Emmerson finds exactly the right balance, holding the attention of the audience as she reacts and responds to the two male leads.
James Wilby (Jack Manningham) plays the classic Victorian husband, defining a middle-class standard of behaviour, whilst behind closed doors cruelly controlling and manipulating his wife. Unlike most other husbands of any era, he is also greedy and willing to kill for it, gradually twisting his wife’s mind until she begins to doubt her own sanity. Wilby gives Manningham authenticity with a slight touch of ‘mad professor’.
Martin Shaw (Rough) is a caricature, bringing an element of humour to balance the darkness, not least of all with a slightly dodgy Irish accent! Do not let this belie the suspense Shaw builds in to the tensest scenes of jeopardy. Shaw brings his familiar, down to earth, dulcet tones to add a realness to his character.
I have to commend the creatives for the staging and deployment of scrims. These are used to great effect to build shadow and light, to the back and the front of the stage. The gas lights are the most important part of the play and are well placed for maximum effect.
The cast is well rehearsed and the script flows beautifully. This is a well thought out production, directed by Lucy Bailey, portraying to great effect what the term gas lighting actually means.