by Patrick Hamilton.
Royal & Derngate (Royal auditorium) Guildhall Road NN1 1DP To 7 November. 2015.
Mon-Sat 7.45pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm.
Audio-described 4 Nov (+ Touch Tour 5.30-6pm), 5 Nov 2.39pm.
BSL Signed 5 Nov 7.45pm.
Captioned 3 Nov.
Runs 2hr 20min One interval.
TICKETS: 01604 624811.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 22 October.
Shining light on dark areas.
Patrick Hamilton’s 1938 play shows a husband systematically undermining his wife’s self-confidence. It’s set in late Victorian London, which for the nineteen-thirties wasn’t a place of decorative comfort, but of murky squalour.
Gaslight combines two sorts of darkness: crime and the dark behind a veneer of married respectability. Off visiting prostitutes, carrying-on with insolent servant Nancy while his wife is upstairs, Jack Manningham is a perfect example of Victorian moral imperfection.
He’s also a criminal, which is as well for Bella because it brings a retired detective onto the scene investigating a 20-year old theft and murder, saving her from increasingly fearful treatment.
It’s Jack’s systematic attack on her mind that most directly hits home. And it sets director Lucy Bailey a problem by providing a central female who seems passive and weak – even her final moment of triumphalism can appear a kind of breakdown.
Bailey’s response is to cast Tara Fitzgerald. Pale and fearful in appearance, tiptoeing round while Jack sleeps, delighted when he seems kind, near panic when he grows angry, there’s also low-pitched strength in her voice, and the sense of a personality coming out of hibernation when Rough uncovers evidence of her sanity.
This reduces impending fear as Manningham tries to regain his influence over her, but increases the final sense of liberation; victimised, she is not a natural victim. And Jonathan Firth’s flashily stylish Jack might deceive anyone – Alexandra Guelff’s self-confident Nancy discovers how he can withdraw apparent interest in her.
Veronica Roberts’ old servant is reliable in every way, while the production’s other surprise is Paul Hunter’s ex-detective. Obsessive about his unsolved case, his delight over it is taken to extremes at moments but lightens Bella’s existence. Video of the mysterious upper storeys aggrandises the building but creates a vertiginous, M C Escher-like perspective, though the final video image of Jack falls between climactic and ridiculous.
William Dudley’s set mixes comfort with confinement, the warmth and danger of its red tinges varied by Chris Davey’s lighting. These match performances which illuminate by searching-out emotional danger areas, unforgettably in the case of Fitzgerald’s tortured wife.
Jack Manningham: Jonathan Firth.
Bella Manningham: Tara Fitzgerald.
Nancy: Alexandra Guelff.
Rough: Paul Hunter.
Elizabeth: Veronica Roberts.
Community cast: Shirley Corke, Tom Heritage, Loyd Mitchell.
Director: Lucy Bailey.
Designer: William Dudley.
Lighting: Chris Davey.
Sound: Mic Pool.
Composer: Nell Catchpole.
Video programmer: Karl Dixon.
Dialect coach: Edda Sharpe.
Fight director: Philip D’Orleans.
Assistant director: Jesse Jones.