A Victorian melodrama that was actually written in 1938 and has been filmed twice doesn’t necessarily sound like the most obvious play for a revival, But Gaslight is absolutely riviting, with excellent performances from the three leads, and a story that twists and turns and grips right from the very start.
The action takes place over the course of one night, in the year 1871, with all events focusing on the drawing room in the home of Bella and Jack Manningham. What seems like a happy marriage is very soon shown to be anything but, as Bella is unveiled as a woman most definitely on the edge of madness, a family afflication which also affected her mother, who died a suicide. But questions are also raised by the actions of Jack Manningham, who is certainly a cruel and unfeeling husband who may just be pushing his wife headfirst into her madness. Who is really hiding precious objects in the house? Why is Bella forbidden to enter the top floor of her own home? And why do those gaslights keep flickering and dimming when Bella is alone? The arrival of a mysterious ex detective called Rough may soon answer all those questions, but will Bella find the answer before she descends into madness? This is the premise of Gaslight.
Kara Tointon is excellent as Bella, the frail wife who suffers at the hands of her evil husband. She plays the role as the epitome of a Victorian female, fragile, subservient and helpless. Her scenes with Rupert Young as her husband Jack crackle with uneasy tension, even during their lighter moments, and her final scene is delivered with a clever weakness that is just brilliant. Rupert Young is perfect foil, a real villainous character who uses his height and build in his performance, giving Jack the air of menace that the role calls for. He also has great chemistry with the slinky, kittenish maid Nancy (Charlotte Blackledge), a saucy minx with her eyes firmly on her boss.
Keith Allen is simply amazing as Rough, the visitor who turns out to be a retired detective, obsessed with a case he might just be able to solve after 20 long years. He brings humour to the proceedings, and his characterisation is both warm and genuinely funny at times, but with the right amount of menace when he confronts Jack.
The confining of the action to one room gives it a Gothic, claustrophobic air, and there are times when the tension is almost unbearable, particularly in the scene where Rough is hiding from Jack, and housekeeper Elizabeth (the excellent Helen Anderson) is trying to draw attention away from his hiding place. There are also a couple of extra surprises at the end that leave the audience feeling very satisfied – if not a little jumpy.
Gaslight is a satisfying melodrama, a real treat for dark and misty January nights.
New Alex Theatre
11-14th January – then touring nationwide
Click here for ticket information