“Every night, I find myself waiting for something”
Fans of overwrought cod-Victorian melodrama are definitely in for a treat at the Salisbury Playhouse, though I have to say Patrick Hamilton’s 1938 play Gaslight sadly fired up no sparks for me. Perhaps our taste in thrillers has become too sophisticated for such less complicated pleasures as these but the writing is clunky beyond belief, depressingly predictable from the off, and not helped by a production that tries to find a solution in prolonging the agony.
Hamilton sets his story in the household of the Manninghams, where he is a moustache-twirling, cackling fiend and she is a near-hysterical waif of a thing firmly under his thumb, leaving us in no doubt as to what’s afoot when the question is raised of whether she is losing her sanity or some more nefarious plan is in action. On and on it goes as their staff are drawn into the narrative along with an inquisitive detective but there’s so little to their parts, barely a hint of the characterisation that would lift the majority of the play from just being functional.
In the face of such material, it is hard to see what the actors can do. As it is, Edward Dick aims broad. Daniel Pirrie’s Jack Manningham is best described as dastardly and Laura Pyper’s Bella is irritatingly histrionic, Maggie McCarthy and Gemma Lawrence as the servants are better but their contributions to the play are too limited, only Joseph Marcell really gets the chance to shine. Blair Mowat’s score has an eerie quality and Tim Mitchell’s lighting design provides the evening’s one true success but as the lights continue to flicker, so too will your eyelids.