Have you ever heard a strange noise, and then wondered if you imagined it? Have you ever questioned your own memory?
These are the questions Bella Manningham asks herself in Patrick Hamilton’s classic thriller ‘Gaslight.’ Bella (Kara Tointon) and her husband Jack (Rupert Young) live in a comfortable townhouse in Victorian London, but it is immediately evident that something troublesome lurks beneath the surface of their seemingly happy marriage. Jack accuses his wife of playing cruel tricks, then goes out every night, leaving her alone to wonder if she truly is losing her mind.
Then one cold evening while Jack is out, an eccentric gentleman arrives at the house to inform Bella that all is not what it seems…
As far as suspense goes, well, there isn’t much to begin with. It’s clear from the off that hubby Jack is a bad egg, and Young is convincingly loathsome as the entitled cur who bullies his wife and enjoys lording it over his staff. It’s only towards the end of the first act, when Keith Allen appears as Mr Rough, that the audience’s curiosity is truly piqued. Is Rough who he says he is? Is his rather far-fetched story true? Or does he have some secret agenda of his own?
At the heart of the story is Tointon’s Bella, who has the unenviable task of making the audience root for her while at the same time acting entirely clueless and helpless for most of the show’s running time. Her performance starts out fragile and occasionally veers into the melodramatic (as might be expected with a Victorian heroine, she does indeed swoon at one point), but grows stronger as the intrigue deepens.
In small but meaningful roles are Helen Anderson as loyal housekeeper Elizabeth and Charlotte Blackledge as uppity young maid Nancy, both of whom are drawn into the mystery in their own ways.
The production is tight, taking place entirely in one drawing room which heightens the sense of growing panic and claustrophobia as Bella’s mental state begins to buckle. Additional lighting effects and one gratuitous jump-scare threaten to push the play unnecessarily into the horror genre, but ultimately, the timeless script and strong central performances anchor the show, giving an unlikely tale a human heart.
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