03 February 2017 to 18 February 2017
First going bump in the night and putting the breeze up West End audiences way back in 1938, Gaslight has proved one of the most successful of thrillers ever since, filmed twice and regularly revived on stage by both pros and amateurs. In fact there’s been a spate of pro revivals just recently, with a national tour still doing the rounds and not to be confused with this Oldham production, which is the Coliseum’s own.
It’s a hoary old melodrama, set in the smog-shrouded London of 1871 and while theatrically it is well past its sell by date in lots of ways, it does have surprisingly contemporary connections with recent news stories of psychological abuse.
Spookily, Archer’s fans – who can always be spotted sitting in their cars in the nearby car parks until the 7.15 dash to the theatre – last night heard the latest dramatic developments in the control freak Rob saga, which overall has uncanny similarities with the situation in Gaslight…
Bella Manningham is becoming increasingly confused, Trinkets keep going missing, she’s lost a grocery bill and a picture has again been removed from the wall near the dining table. Her husband Jack is not all that sympathetic – in fact it becomes obvious very quickly that he’s a pretty nasty piece of work - with her lapses of memory and the maid laughs at her behind her back.
Then there’s the mystery of the flickering gaslights, which dim ominously each evening, oddly only when her husband is out of the house, as if his absence caused some sort of spooky loss of pressure.
And, has Bella really heard someone moving around on the top floor, the floor that is permanently out of bounds? Bella’s mother died insane, is Bella also losing her mind?
I seem to have seen Gaslight over and over again so I’ve been surprised that virtually everyone else I’ve spoken to about it never has. Luckily for them, this is an excellent introduction, certainly the best production of it I remember, one that plays down the melodrama to make it far more real than the script deserves.
Director Robin Herford has assembled a great team. Long-time collaborator designer Michael Holt provides a detailed Victorian drawing room, cunningly lit by Jason Taylor and populated by a vastly experienced and totally (as much as anyone can be in three acts of hokum) convincing cast who play it to the hilt.
Catherine Kinsella (MTA Best Actress 2014) is always excellent and here manages to give real depth to Bella’s predicament as she fluctuates between girlish glee at a promised theatre visit only to be plunged into deep despair as she doubts her sanity. The first act in particular, a perfectly paced 50-minute dramatic arc, rivets the attention and speeds by and it is in large measure due to Kinsella’s performance.
Veteran, award-winning Paul Webster is the mysterious visitor who seems to know much more than seems possible about the house and its occupants and he delivers yet another attractively eccentric character.
With backing from a quietly nasty Damien Matthews as the husband, Amy Gavin as the flirty maid and Susan Twist as the housekeeper it is cast from strength and overall new life is breathed into the old potboiler.
Reviewer: Alan Hulme