If you choose to go to see a play – of course you want to choose one of a good standard. A quality piece and it doesn’t get any better in quality than this one. Gaslight is a period piece set in 1880 in London and it is based in the house or Mr Manningham. The first scene opens to the relationship between Mr Jack Manningham and Bella Manningham (his wife). She is probably typical of the type of women at the time – reliant on her husband for finances and a bit helpless and emotional. Jack is a bit strange, one moment being loving and the next threatening to send her to the ‘mad house’.
Jack goes out every night; enjoys humiliating Bella in front of their maid and keeps making reference that she is going mad like her mother did. He is far from an ideal husband. Poor Bella. She has no friends or family who can support her and even feels the maid is against her. What can she do?
Luckily, A stranger comes to pay Bella a visit when her husband is out. She is reluctant to talk to him and feels he talks in riddles. The stranger is a police detective is called Rough and he tells her the story of a murder in this very house 20 years ago. It soon becomes apparent that he believes the murderer to be Bella’s husband and that the reason the gas lights keep dimming is because Jack is secretly searching the upstairs floor of the house to find the jewels from the murder that were never recovered. Bella finds this all a bit hard to take in. Not only is Rough saying her husband is a murderer but he is not even legally married to Bella. As the story unfolds Bella has to decide where her heart lies.
Kara Tointon plays Bella with an affection that makes you root for her to get out of her awful situation and see Jack for what he really is. She goes through a variety of emotions from being passionately in love and happy she is going to the theatre, through to being desperately unhappy and thinking that maybe she really is going mad. Kara delivers her role with accomplishment and gives us a well-rounded character that we love.
As much as she is loved, her husband, Jack is played by Rupert Young and he can seem kind and loving but underneath he is manipulative and cruel. He purposely plays with Bella’s emotions and give a great performance as a bad guy. His role was so convincing that at the curtain call he was booed (And I thought panto season has ended!). Poor Rupert – I hope he realises that it was because he delivered the character so well.
Keith Allen gave an outstanding performance. He was so good with his accent, the dialogue (which is very wordy at times) and reacting to Bella. He gave a great performance and his delivery of Rough really did impress. He also added a moment or two of humour such as offering Bella some medicine which is really whiskey.
The maid and housekeeper also deserve a mention as they both brought something vital to the play. Elizabeth played by Helen Anderson has perfect comic timing and sometimes it was her pausing or a look that made it funny rather than something she said. She was very impressive and a great supporting role. The maid was played by Charlotte Blackledge and she also gave a great supportive role as a feisty maid who clearly fancies Mr Manningham.
This show has a great set with a good use of lighting. The mood music was a bit distracting and took away from the very fast paced dialogue of the actors. I felt it wasn’t really needed. But overall this is a fantastic play and shows that character definition is most definitely a big draw to audiences.
Gaslight is at Waterside, Aylesbury until 21 January 2017.