Friday, 20 January 2017

Gaslight

Kara Tointon and Keith Allen are superb in this Victorian thriller full of surly servants and flickering lights

Written by Georgina Brown


Poor Bella is not settling into married life in London. The servants patronise her; her husband, Jack, spends much of the time at his club or entertaining ‘unemployed actresses’; she thinks she hears footsteps on the top floor that she is forbidden from entering. Stranger still, when Jack leaves the house, the gaslight dips in the room, making it murky and malign. Now a picture has disappeared, once again, from its place on top of the piano, in the overstuffed, grimy sitting room and Jack accuses Bella of Georgina-Brown-colour-176moving it, just as she has ‘mislaid’ grocery bills, jewellery and the watch he gave her. Bella swears it wasn’t any of her doing. Then she finds the wretched photograph and begins to fear she is losing her mind, just as Jack says she is and just as her mother did before her.

Patrick Hamilton described his hit 1938 drama, Gaslight, as a ‘Victorian thriller’, a pastiche of Wilkie Collins, and it is deliciously stuffed with all the traditional ingredients of a melodrama: a pallid wife, an overbearing rotter of a husband, surly servants, foggy streets and guttering gaslights. But it’s better than that. It’s a surprisingly chilling portrait of an ugly and abusive marriage.

Rupert Young’s Jack could be more cruelly menacing, but his towering height works in his favour and there’s more than a touch of the Archers’ Rob Titchener in his vile bullying and controlling manipulation of his wife. He instructs her how to treat the servants, calls her a ‘good child’, spoonfeeds her with her calming medicine, scoops her up like an infant and puts her on the settee to rest, and promises to reward her for improved behaviour with an outing to the theatre. Worse, he flirts with Nancy the maid – so lively and prettily pink-cheeked, unlike Kara Tointon’s wonderfully wan and washed out Bella.

Fortunately, Bella’s salvation arrives in the shape of Keith Allen’s adorably impish and bewhiskered Detective Rough, who (somewhat explicably) appears from out of the blue to solve the mystery. Allen has great fun with the part and there’s a lovely moment when he hears a strange noise and races to the piano and plays the first few hammy notes of Beethoven’s Fifth: ‘Der, der, der, dermmmmmm.’ When he finds what he has been looking for, he performs a merry jig.

Anthony Banks’s enjoyable production has more pace than polish. There’s a distinct tattiness at the edges. Bella’s ill-fitting costume is too obviously hired while the servants’ smart outfits appear made to measure and the tiny set is dwarfed in the cavernous New Alexandra Theatre. In a smaller theatre, this Gaslight should flicker with a more satisfying eeriness.

From 23 to 28 January New Victoria Theatre, Woking: 0844-871 7645, www.atgtickets.com and then touring until 11 March


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