BWW Reviews: GASLIGHT, Royal and Derngate, October 24 2015

Royal and Derngate's latest Made in Northampton production is Patrick Hamilton's psychological thriller GASLIGHT, starring Tara Fitzgerald and Jonathan Firth and directed by Lucy Bailey.

Bella Manningham is going mad. At least that's what her husband Jack says, and she's starting to believe it. After all, things are going missing and if no one else did it, then it must be her - mustn't it? Jack wants her to try harder to pull herself together - or she'll end up in the madhouse like her mother did. And she's trying. She really is.

I hadn't see GASLIGHT before (on stage or on film) and because I'm not big into scares, I made the mistake of reading the plot first. Don't do it. I really enjoyed this, even knowing where it was going, but I think if you were clueless about how it plays out, it would be even better - the final moment provoked gasps from the audience the night that I saw it.

Fitzgerald and Firth are giving excellent performances as the Manninghams - both handling rapid changes in character with aplomb. One moment she's neurotic and weepy in the face of his charm and utter reasonableness, the next she's the put-upon victim in the face of his irrational rage. It's disconcerting and unsettling and very effective. On top of that, this play is a grim reminder of the power that men used to have over their wives, at a time when all a woman's possessions belonged to her husband as soon as they were married, allowing him to control her and dominate her at will.

Paul Hunter's Rough provides some light relief into all the tension - providing laughs for the audience as well as being the catalyst for the solution to the puzzle (cryptic, I know, but I'm attempting not to give spoilers here). Alexandra Guelff's Nancy is hard and calculating - pert and insolent to her mistress and cheeky and out for all she can get from the man of the house, while Veronica Roberts' Elizabeth is firmly ranged on the side of her mistress in a quiet and comforting way - mothering and persuading Bella.

William Dudley's set has slightly skewed perspectives to disconcert you, intermittently translucent walls, a series of staircases and a giant slanting ceiling which does double duty for projections (some of which work, while others are less successful). The lighting design creates looming shadows as Jack tries to get the truth out of his wife as well as the changes in light levels that Bella is so suspicious of. The sound design also works well - with ticking clocks and snatches of tinkly music adding to the tension and discombobulation.

There are occasions when the play feels a little dated, and there is a lot of talking and explanations, but this production is so pacey and intriguing that you mostly don't have time to notice - and when you do, you're having so much fun you don't care.

GASLIGHT is at Royal and Derngate, Northampton until November 7.

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From This Author Verity Wilde