Real moments of terror are engineered in Gaslight by sympathetic design and a subtly powerful soundtrack in this melodramatic story of domestic abuse. The production looks wonderful and is performed well but its old style pace will not please everyone.
…watching you go with glory in my heart.
Gaslight by Patrick Hamilton was described as a ‘study in sustained terror’ at it’s premier season in 1939 at the Apollo Theatre.
In the current age where terror is presented continuously and in graphic detail it is difficult for any play to evoke terror and Gaslight in the main, does not. Amongst the avalanche of words and beautiful images, some other feelings are evoked.
The demeanour of the male protagonist Mr Manningham is dismissive and degrading and evokes distaste. The reaction of Mrs Manningham to this blatant bullying is frustrating and annoying. If that is the desired affect then Rupert Young and Kara Tointon as Mr and Mrs Manningham hit their marks.
The antics of Nancy the maid, played with suitable flair by Charlotte Blackledge, has the audience indignant. Fortunately there is Elizabeth the housekeeper on the side of Mrs Manningham and the audience is relieved to be on-side with somebody. Helen Anderson plays Elizabeth with charm.
Then the stage is graced by an unexpected visitor: Rough is a retired detective and has the air of a magician about him. Alas there was no rabbit in the hat but rather a snake in the grass.
Keith Allen plays the detective who ultimately saves Mrs Manningham from being incarcerated in a mental home. Allen plays the winsome detective with a twinkle in his eye and possibly tongue in cheek. His energy lifts the ponderous dialogue to a decent pace and the audience loves him for it.
Overall Gaslight suffers from its dated linguistic style. There are at least ten words spoken for every one necessary to the narrative and there are also multiple repetitions of thoughts. This creates a deficit in pace that even the strong directorial choices of Anthony Banks cannot save.
The real moments of terror are engineered by the sympathetic lighting of Howard Hudson. Hudson creates a lovely sepia effect at the opening of the play and from there his lighting underpins the action. Teamed with the lighting is a powerful soundtrack created by Ben and Max Ringham. It’s power lies in its subtlety.
Towering over everything is an enormous ceiling. Given the significance of what occurs above that ceiling, its size is fitting. It caps a rather lovely and realistic box set of the old-fashioned, one-set plays of yesteryear. Gaslight was designed by David Woodhead who matched the traditional look of the set in costume. Mrs Manningham is dressed in a neutral coloured gown that falls into a lovely shape.
Gaslight may have some relevance to contemporary society. Certainly there is plenty of background information in the programme to support that notion. However the link to modern male attitudes and abusive behaviours to women is a little lost in this outdated play.