Review: Gaslight

2 star rating
Contrived design (to underscore relevance) grates and takes precedence over performance with limp direction failing to realise the subtle nature of emotional abuse the play describes.
Gaslight at The Playground Theatre

Image courtesy First Floor Presents



Closes here: Sunday 10 November 2019

Author:
Patrick Hamilton

Director:
Imy Wyatt Corner

Cast:

Jemima Murphy - Bella Manningham

Jordan Wallace - Jack Manningham

Grace Howard - Nancy

Rebecca Ashley - Elizabeth

Joe McArdle - Rough


Synopsis


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 could not be more relevant right now - challenging our views on emotional abuse.


First Floor share a fresh and feminine perspective as proof we are in the midst of cultural change.


ActDrop reviews


Peter Brown

Performance date: Thursday 24 October 2019
Review star rating image

A shock of pink greets the audience when they enter the auditorium for this revival of Patrick Hamilton's play, first performed a little short of a century ago back in 1938.


A landmark play, Gaslight details the insidious and abusive mind control applied by husband Jack Manningham on his wife Bella - a practice now known as 'gaslighting', derived from this play's title.


Set designer Kate Halstead is at pains in her programme notes to explain the significance of the pink which dominates the set here in the form of a carpet which bedecks the sitting room where all the action takes place.


The particular shade of pink is known (apparently) by a variety of names including P-618 and drunk-tank pink, and was developed from scientific research (later discredited) which suggested that the colour had a calming effect on humans, enabling them to be subdued and controlled.


Audience members who hadn't read the programme beforehand would not, of course, know just how this colour applies to the unfolding drama.


Nor would they have known the importance of the kaleidoscopic nature of furniture that adorns the Manningham's sitting room.


Again, the explanation comes in notes from director Imy Wyatt Corner whose declared ambition is to show that the emotional abuse described in the play has endured over a continuing timescale.


So we find an old fashioned fireplace sitting alongside a more modern filing cabinet that stands in for the 'bureau' mentioned in the script, and modernish lamps fill-in for the 'gaslight' which has to flicker at regular intervals as an essential element in the plot.


Though the design might embody noble intent, the setting nonetheless grates against the original text delivered here, and leaves the audience floundering and worrying about just where we are in terms of time-period.


Patrick Hamilton's original setting is a fairly well-to-do, middle class home in the London of 1880.


I suspect setting the play in that same era would not have diminished the play's relevance and, more appropriately, it would have had the distinct advantage of not distracting the audience, leaving them to connect the dramatic dots to discover how the play's commentary applies to current times in our own society.


The mishmash of furniture and props also poses issues later on in the play when the bureau has to be prised open and the filing cabinet just doesn't work in the way the script suggests.


Minor elements also present irritating oddities - scones fetch-up as stand-ins for 'muffins' and an item of jewellery fails to convince as the hiding place of a substantial number of large rubies.


More importantly in terms of overall impact and dramatic interest, the original text doesn't seem to have been treated to the same level of fretting attention the design has been lavished with.


The dated-sounding dialogue is certainly difficult to grapple with and comprehend for both audience and actors alike, but limp direction in terms of performance scrutiny, fails to secure the appropriate pitch and subtlety to realise the layering, with lines sometimes delivered almost on auto-pilot.


And that renders the production a disappointment, because the real power of the play is encapsulated in psychological nuances within the script and in which the bulk of the relevance is to be found.


Patrick Hamilton's play still has much to offer as an intriguing thriller and a disturbing analysis of emotional abuse, but this revival fails to draw-out its revelatory power.



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