Touring – reviewed at Malvern Theatres
Gaslight by Patrick Hamilton no ordinary whodunit. It’s a tense thriller set in 1871 and this particular incarnation boasts a glorious set which offers a ‘Great Expectations’ air of faded decadence. The Manninghams’ spectacular drawing room offers a static scene for the length of the play, however from the outset it became obvious that there were hidden tricks in there. All of which added to the dramatic tension and eerie ambience of the piece.
Kara Tointon plays Bella Manningham; it is evident from the opening scene that she is a troubled, anxious soul who dotes on her husband, Jack (Rupert Young). Tointon portrays her as nervous and edgy and is able to demonstrate much of through her body language.
Despite her having recently played Betsey in The Halcyon and my prior knowledge of her work, I was able to detach myself from the characters I was previously familiar with as she embraced this new challenge and role extremely ably. I felt that the costume, make-up and Tointon’s demeanour gave Bella the appearance of a young Miss Haversham. An unsurprising link to make given that she spends much of her time cooped up in the house that is driving her mad with the sounds from above stairs, the fading gaslights and the items that go missing which she has responsibility for.
Jack is a controlling husband whom it is easy to take a dislike to from the beginning, he dangles carrots, such as a trip to the theatre and then withdraws them upon declaring that his wife has done wrong again. He is feeding her medicine and encouraging her to believe that she is going mad, like her mother before her. Undermining his wife in front of the servants is also a favourite pastime of his. Young is a convincing villain and his height adds stature to the imposing character that he is playing. Jack’s disappearance to do as he pleases while his wife remains ‘imprisoned’ signals the arrival of an unexpected visitor.
Rough (Keith Allen) is a retired Detective who has picked up a case that he had worked on twenty years ago and brings the grave news that the house was the scene of a gruesome murder, the murderer is still at large and Bella’s married life may not be what it seems. Allen plays Rough with well timed wit, he has the ability to lighten the tone even though the subject matter is intensely serious. His timing is impeccable, there’s an added quirkiness too which moves the action along at a smooth pace.
There are no real ‘jump out of your seat’ thrills in this piece, but it’s an engaging evening at the theatre and although I sought out twists that weren’t present, the overall outcome didn’t disappoint. The cast are a strong unit with notable chemistry and each of the leads gave outstanding performances. Hamilton’s play has stood the test of time and can still be enjoyed in a very different era, it’s highly recommended by Break A Leg.