Gaslight, New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham - review and pictures

Confused, frightened and alienated while at the mercy of a controlling, manipulative husband, Bella Manningham finds herself doubting not only her own sanity but the very fabric of the only reality she knows.

Gaslight Kara Tointon as Bella Manningham (c) Manuel Harlan
Kara Tointon as Bella Manningham. Pics by Manuel Harlan

Amid this disturbing coercive domestic hell, a gripping tale of cold-blooded murder, greed and intrigue develops.

It is a storyline so relevant and absorbing today that it is almost incredible that this timeless thriller was actually penned in 1938.

Written by Patrick Hamilton, Gaslight follows the emotional, mental and physical struggle of diminished wife Bella following the sinister revelations of a mystery visitor late at night. The news gives some credibility at last to her own suspicions and observations which she was battling to comprehend.

Events unfold during the evening as the play is set entirely in the drawing room of the marital home in London of Bella and her bullying husband Jack.

Testament to the terrifyingly convincing performance of the sadistic, psychotic Jack Manningham came by the chorus of boos actor Rupert Young received as he took a final bow at the New Alexandra Theatre where the production this week begins a national tour.

Young oozed menace as he both charmed and petrified his tormented wife in a twisted power game. Humiliating her with his roving eye and deliberately shaming her before the servants to undermine and ostracise her, a cold chill swept the theatre as a hatred of the character developed.

Gaslight Kara Tointon as Bella Manningham; Rupert Young as Jack Manningham  (c) Manuel Harlan
L-R: Rupert Young as Jack Manningham and Kara Tointon as Bella Manningham

In his Victorian costume, Young swept onto the dimly-lit stage with his huge Jekyll-like shadow looming large and leaving the gripped audience biting their nails in apprehension as the tension built.

An antidote to the heart-stopping tension comes in the form of surprise guest Rough, played by the infinitely versatile and talented Keith Allen.

His charismatic and engaging character managed to deliver almost cruel, shocking revelations to his devastated host with a slice of humour. The light relief he offered the audience was usually very welcome amid this tense drama but occasionally seemed a little too comical for the situation.

Taking the lead role, played in the 1944 film by the legendary Ingrid Bergman, is Kara Tointon who portrays a pallid, quite childish, desperate and needy Bella and her early scenes with Young are soul-destroying. It is both heart warming and a huge relief when flashes of valour and courage return to the heart of this long suffering woman.

The theatrical ‘ghostly’ effects seemed a little unnecessary but received the appropriate gasps from the audience as they became absorbed by this compulsive thriller.

Helen Anderson plays the kindly maid Elizabeth while Charlotte Blackledge is excellent as the vampish maid Nancy who shows complete contempt for her weak mistress and displays ambitions of her own regarding the master of the house.

Good, old-fashioned entertainment which has more than stood the test of time. Runs in Birmingham until Saturday.

By Diane Davies

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