Although it is not without its pleasures, Anthony Banks’ revival of Gaslight is a patchy affair, uneven in tone and let down by an unconvincing central performance.
The plot of Patrick Hamilton’s Gaslight is familiar to most, its title now part of the vernacular (and depressingly relevant in these turbulent times). Bella Manningham, a woman whose family has a history of mental illness, finds herself forgetful and distracted: she misplaces things and hears noises at night when her husband Jack is supposedly out, and is increasingly fearful of her sanity. But is she really going mad, or is her distress the result of skilful manipulation by her unscrupulous spouse? When a retired policeman turns up out of the blue with a bloody tale of an unsolved murder, it seems she is in the middle of a far darker plot than she could ever have feared.
Aided by designer David Woodhead, this is a stylish, expensive-looking production, and though it never quite ramps up the tension as much as it could do, there are some proper, ‘jump out of your seat’ shocks as the play progresses, as well as more laughs than you would expect from a psychological drama.
Keith Allen’s avuncular old copper Rough is gifted all the best lines and he milks them with glee, adding a bluff energy to the proceedings that makes you pleased to see him every time he returns to the stage. Rupert Young is silkily compelling as Jack – smooth, mercurial, superficially charming, but a manipulative, dangerous bully who takes no small delight in exerting his power over his servants, his wife, and even his poor dog. Charlotte Blackledge is also a pleasure as the minx of a maid Nancy, who smugly undermines her mistress’ authority to her face and cavorts with the master behind her back, while Helen Anderson provides able support as the put-upon housekeeper, Elizabeth.
But a piece like this needs a convincing centre around which to spin, and it simply doesn’t have one. Kara Tointon as Bella is over-mannered and under-nuanced, veering from hysteria to stupefaction with little inbetween; alternately giddy and needy, overwrought and staggering around dramatically in stunned disbelief, she’s difficult to like and it’s a struggle even to sympathise with her, hideous as her dilemma unarguably is. Unconvinced by her peril and with no great emotional investment in her overcoming it, it’s impossible to get caught up in the action, making this ultimately an unsatisfying and forgettable production.
Gaslight is on at the Theatre Royal Brighton until 11 February 2017. Click here for more details.