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Gaslight by Patrick Hamilton at the Playground Theatre

Gaslight - Photo by William Waterworth
Gaslight – Photo by William Waterworth

This production of Gaslight begins with Elizabeth (Rebecca Ashley), housekeeper to Jack and Bella Manningham (Jordan Wallace and Jemima Murphy), briefly explaining what is going on. I wondered if this was something that would happen at regular intervals, as it does in the Thornton Wilder play Our Town, but as the events in the play take place over less than half a day, the context remains the same throughout, as does the setting, with everything taking place in the front room.

The clipped Victorian tones that one might expect from Victorians wealthy enough to afford domestic servants (as opposed to being servants themselves) are ditched for accents easier on the ears for a twenty-first century London audience. Mr Manningham, as he is referred to, comes across as someone who worked his way up to being financially successful one way or another, though his heritage might well come under the old adage ‘shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations’.

Wallace’s approach to the character is to portray him as balanced and controlled, very admirable attributes in themselves but somewhat at odds with the highly-strung “master of the house” (as he calls himself) who complains because “the tea things” haven’t been put away and has lockable storage units instead of shelves. It also makes his attitude towards Bella rather more curious than a more outwardly neurotic husband would have been.

A visit from an Inspector Rough (Joe McArdle) reassures the increasingly unsettled Bella that she is not losing her mental faculties after all. Much more is uncovered, though it would be revealing too much to provide further particulars here. Rough’s somewhat mischievous nature leads him to pursue lines of investigation in ways that his more strait-laced colleagues in the police might even frown upon. Nonetheless, it makes for good theatre.

I must admit I found the first half a bit of a slog, but one’s patience was rewarded after the interval: the audience is even subjected to a rather saucy carry on between Mr Manningham and Nancy (Grace Howard), the housemaid. But for a play that was written as a thriller, I’m afraid to report that I couldn’t detect any feeling of fear. This all came across as a series of events that happened, nothing more and nothing less.

It was intriguing in places. The play’s relevance to modern society makes this production an interesting watch. There is still manipulation of people in relationships by their partners today, and there is still the snobbery and psychological abuse. The show’s programme references ‘Love Island’ and ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ as examples where questionable behaviour is evident – I accept this assertion at face value as I don’t happen to watch either series.

The lighting effects (Gregory Jordan), rather central to elements of the narrative, work well. The narrative itself, unfortunately, is far from watertight. I note with some interest that Mr Manningham repeatedly referred to his wife as ‘Miss Manningham’ rather than ‘Mrs Manningham’ – I might be majoring on the minor, but it seems to me that this is indicative of his prevailing attitude towards her, even in front of the servants. Then again, hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, especially during this somewhat intense and relatively brief show.

3 Star Review

Review by Chris Omaweng

Have you ever been ‘gaslighted’? Lost confidence in your convictions? Referred to as ‘crazy’ or ‘hysterical’? A chilling revamp of Patrick Hamilton’s iconic Gaslight is showing now at The Playground Theatre until 10 November.

Bella hears footsteps from the attic and objects disappear from beneath her eyes: she thinks she is losing her mind and her husband, Jack, agrees. It isn’t until an outsider arrives that she shifts the accusations away from herself. Bella fights for control but can she discern what is real and what is false?

Gaslight challenges our views on emotional abuse and manipulation; the ease at which we can lose ourselves and our sanity. Today, Gaslight is more relevant than ever as the measure of acceptable behaviour, awareness and understanding of the psychological effects of abuse are hotly debated. Politicians exploit our views on Twitter, Love Island producers push emotional boundaries and the ridiculous rules of dating drive us mad. We face ‘gaslighters’ from all corners of society – but can we always spot them?

This production brings immediacy and modernity to Hamilton’s Victorian script: providing a fresh and feminist perspective as proof that we are in the midst of cultural change.

Jemima Murphy as Mrs Manningham
Jordan Wallace as Mr Manningham
Grace Howard as Nancy
Joe Mcardle as Rough
Rebecca Ashley as Elizabeth

Directed by Imy Wyatt Corner
Produced by First Floor Presents and Katie Berglof
Associate Director Grainne Dromgoole
Set Design Kate Halstead
Lighting Design Gregory Jordan
Sound Design Herbert homer Warbeck
Graphic Design Willow Murphy

Monday 21st October – 10th November 2019
The Playground Theatre
Latimer Rd London W10 6RQ


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