REVIEW: Gaslight @ Lyceum Theatre
Kara Tointon and Keith Allen star in this reboot of Patrick Hamilton’s psychological thriller.
The suspense-ridden play Gaslight, despite being written in 1938, is a descendent of the Victorian melodramas that enjoyed huge success in 18th century theatre. However, it strips back the sensationalism and large-scale drama popular in such productions for a more restricted, entirely credible story of enduring mental abuse and deceit.
All of the action occurs in the front room of a London household during the 1880s, giving proceedings a purposely claustrophobic feel as we follow the tortured existence of Bella Manningham (Tointon) and her seemingly concerned husband Jack (Rupert Young). The play begins with the couple behaving in relatively cordial manner; Jack offers to take his wife to the theatre, much to the uncontainable delight of Bella, but things turn awry as he notices their wedding photo has been moved and hidden away. He instantly becomes fiery and accuses Bella, who denies any knowledge of its removal, and begins to berate her for what is clearly, he claims, signs that her mental illness is worsening.
The mask quickly slips as Mr Manningham, ignoring Bella’s pleas of “Be gentle with me, Jack!”, embarrasses Bella in front of the housemaids, repeatedly tells her she’s losing her mind then storms out of the house with the threat of physical violence upon his return if the missing items aren’t recovered. Tointon does well to capture the shattered spirit and confused terror of Bella, who cannot comprehend why strange occurrences keep happening in the home and dreads befalling the fate of her mother, who we are told died in a lunatic asylum.
While Bella is overcome with misery, the surprise arrival of a retired detective with a penchant for Scotch whisky (Allen) offers some hope to show that, if his theories are correct, she is far from insane. The instantly likeable Detective Rough offers explanations for the mysterious goings-on in the house: the misplaced items, the sounds of eerie footsteps upstairs and the gaslights dimming of their own accord. The true evil of Young’s character is revealed, and from that point onwards Tointon does well to show the pitifully weak Bella growing in strength as she begins to realise the scale of abuse suffered at the hands of her husband.
Those expecting an Agatha Christie-style twist will be disappointed – once the cat is out of the bag, it’s just a case of how and when the villain will be caught. The strength of this production is in the cast performances: Allen is adept at turning Rough into an intriguing character, nailing the humorous lines and asides but shows just enough oddness to stop you short of confiding trust; Young’s Jack Manningham is a classically sadistic, controlling piece of work; and Bella’s transformation from broken wreck to driven revenge-seeker is a joy to behold.
Although at times excitement levels flicker due to a very linear plot, a thirst for justice means Gaslight does just enough to keep the the audience’s curiosity burning to the end.