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Tuesday 07 February 2017

Review: Gaslight @ Theatre Royal Brighton

A melodrama written in 1938, mainstay of rep companies ever since, and a narrative in which we are presented with the answers to the mystery very early on. On the face of it, this doesn't sound like a premise for a gripping night of theatre these days.

However, this production of Gaslight at Theatre Royal Brighton relishes in the gothic claustrophobia of the piece, and knowingly (but never sneeringly) presents the story afresh. 

The plot revolves around the relentless plan by Bella Manningham's husband Jack to drive the fragile and eager-to-please Bella mad. 

Objects disappear, kindness is offered then just as quickly withdrawn, Jack micro- manages Bella's every move. The play details the last night of this torment.

Rupert Young as Jack shows enormous stage presence, physically towering over the frail and pasty Bella as he switches from unctuous and patronising to a furious bully in an instant. 

Kara Tointon plays Bella Manningham perfectly, her clipped Deborah Kerr-like voice and distracted physical movements perfectly conveying the years of bullying she has suffered. 

Behind The Scenes At Brighton's Theatre Royal

Although the melodrama is truly kept in period, this kind of grinding abuse obviously still occurs and resonates today - indeed if this were a contemporary story, it would be seen as a psychological drama rather than a melodrama. It says something of the resonance of the piece that the term 'Gaslighting' has entered the lexicon of abuse.

The arrival of a mysterious visitor, Rough, played by Keith Allen, puts a match to the flame and begins the events leading to the discovery of Jack's true purpose. 

Allen plays the part like a terrier, pursuing the truth and relishing the language of the play, adding in a couple of deft and touching comedic moments that add to his characterisation. 

As the household faces up to the secrets within the dark tatty drawing room, the ticking of a clock, flickering gaslight and startling thundercracks just add to the hothouse atmosphere. 

Support from the saucy maid Nancy, played perfectly by Charlotte Blackledge and the faithful housekeeper Helen Anderson is great. 

The wonderful set and costumes focus our attention on the drama and the details. However, it's the acting of the three main characters that carry this through - as an audience we know what's coming, and Gaslight is all the more fun for that. A great evening, catch it if you can.

Gaslight plays Theatre Royal Brighton until Saturday 11th February 2017. CLICK HERE for more info. 

by: Gary Cook


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