REVIEW: Gaslight @ Theatre Royal

February 8, 2017


Theatre Royal

The night opens abruptly in a Victorian drawing-room, all heaving solid furnishing, pendulous clock marking the long claustrophobic evening, a peeling wallpaper and proper subdued matrimonial scene; my heart sank, I didn’t want another trite drawing-room thriller but within moments the tight bright acting with more than a hint of disturbing controlling menace caught and kept my attention and we settled in for what seemed like a very swift first half.

While Jack Manningham is on the town each evening his wife Bella (Kara Tointon) is home alone. She can’t explain the disappearance of familiar objects, the mysterious footsteps overhead or the ghostly flickering of living room gaslight – is she losing her mind? Does the terror exist in her imagination or are dark secrets living in her home? The surprise arrival of a retired detective (Keith Allen) leads to a shocking discovery that will shake her respectable Victorian marriage to its core.

In the tradition of heavyweight thrillers from Hitchcock and Priestley, Gaslight is sensationally suspenseful, all-round elegant masterpiece.

The plot and its subsequent denouement is never quite as straight forward as it seems and Kara Tointon’s delicate tour de force as Bella’ doubt as to her sanity is explored with sensitivity and rising anxiety as she’s forced to confront both her real situation and the one forced on her by the manipulative psycho of a partner she appears to be domiciled with.  It’s a convincing performance. Keith Allen’s rather bumptious detective is a delight; funny & considerate as he exposes the web of deceit that’s strangling her sanity and also the rough charm of a man who knows he’s the instrument of vengeance.

Gaslight is written by British writer Patrick Hamilton. This masterpiece of suspenseful play-writing is a superb mystery thriller and my companion was engaged, thrilled and utterly enjoyed what he said was a ‘great night’.

Supporting cast Helen Anderson and Charlotte Blackledge are spot on and the side plots of vigilant servants and young passionate tease maid is swerved out of clichĂ© by the quality of the casting and performances. Although this boils down to a one room play there’s enough strong acting to keep the narrative tension bouncing along and the audience ( quite rightly) in suspense.   The final scenes are done with relish and spring with  tension and give us a much welcome comeuppance for the unpleasantness witnessed earlier, and Rupert Young completes his ominous brooding arrogant performance with the indignity of entitlement exposed. There was some great acting tonight.

As tightly written, well-acted and delightfully compact production with a few well-timed jumps to add to the thrill, Gaslight is a lovely night out and worth trotting along to if you fancy some rather delightful quality writing performed with relish by this safe engaging company. It is 2 hours 25 minutes (including interval) but felt much shorter, testament to the gripping and absorbing production.

Plays until Saturday 11

Theatre Royal

New Road