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Posted by : TimothyRamsden on Oct 15, 2013 - 10:35 AM Archive

by Patrick Hamilton.

New Vic Theatre Etruria Road ST5 0JG To 5 October 2013.
Runs 2hr 35min One interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 3 October.

Well-played period thriller hasn’t lost its edge.

First seen in 1942, set in a late 19th-century England yet to be rehabilitated by such enthusiasts for Victoriana as Sir John Betjeman, Patrick Hamilton’s play might, surprisingly, be played in modern-dress.

Consider this, from a speech given as Sarah Punshon’s production was starting rehearsals:

“Domestic abuse is …the deliberate and systematic destruction of a victim's self esteem and sense of self worth … In one case, a woman's partner set about trying to destroy her sanity. Over a period of years he hid her clothes, her car keys, the kids’ toys - pretending that she must have lost them. He changed all the clocks in the house and her alarm so that she was late for work or collecting the children and then - before she got home - changed them back again. When she questioned it, he told her he was starting to worry about her mental health. Eventually, she started to doubt herself.”

This is half the story of Gaslight, occurring in the 21st-century. The other half is a crime story, its outcome saving Bella Manningham from her marriage. For it’s only the coincidence of servants’ love lives and a retired detective’s obsession about an old case that keep her from being manipulated into madness by her husband.

Punshon eschews the stylised light and dark of Kate Wasserberg’s 2011 revival in Mold. And staging in-the-Round means the hide-and-seek around Manningham’s arrivals and departures is muted. But the New Vic stage helps focus Bella’s predicament: exposed, with nowhere to escape.

Alix Dunmore’s Bella is a frail, willowy figure, pathetically grateful for Jack’s apparent approval, fearful when he withdraws it in a bully’s exploitation of hope and humiliation. Her evident pleasure at gloating momentarily over contemptuous young Nancy sows the seeds for later indulging in tormenting her husband with his own tricks; behaviour that risks bringing out the worst in its victims.

Contrasting her vulnerability, Brendan Hughes’ Jack is coldly contained, while John Cording’s Rough convincingly mixes good-natured cheer and professional enthusiasm. From below stairs, Joanna Bacon and Hannah Lee are models of loyal servant and opportunistic minx respectively.

Mrs Manningham: Alix Dunmore.
Mr Manningham: Brendan Hughes.
Ex-Detective Rough: John Cording.
Elizabeth: Joanna Bacon.
Nancy: Hannah Lee.
Police Officers: Matthew Jones, Jamie Robertson.

Director: Sarah Punshon.
Designer: Michael Holt.
Lighting: Daniella Beattie.
Sound: James Earle-Davis.
Fight director: Philip d’Orléans.
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