Review: Gaslight, Royal and Derngate

“Suddenly, I’m beginning not to trust my memory at all“

I do like me some Tara Fitzgerald and reckon she’s probably under-rated both in my personal pantheon of favourite actresses and by the industry at large. So I was more than happy to get the train back up to Northampton (after last month’s Brave New World) to see her take the lead in a new revival of Gaslight, despite not having enjoyed the play the one time I previously saw it in Salisbury. And fickle as I am, I enjoyed it much more here, Lucy Bailey’s production rising to the challenges of the somewhat hokey writing.

For I don’t think anyone could truly claim that Patrick Hamilton’s play is particularly well-written or that well-constructed, its almost farcical nature needs careful treatment in this more sceptical day and age but that is exactly what it gets here. Fitzgerald plays Bella Manningham, a Victorian wife convinced that she is losing her mind as did her mother, and with her husband often away on business, the fears that her house is haunted grow near-insurmountable. But are they real or is something more cruelly manipulative afoot?

With the arrival of a retired Inspector to cast some (gas)light on the situation, Hamilton skitters between hackneyed detective story and worthy psychological thriller which becomes increasingly ridiculous but Bailey has Paul Hunter acknowledge this in his playing, embracing it fully. And contrasting that is Fitzgerald’s utterly straight and beautifully voiced performance as the timorous Bella, almost painfully fragile as Jonathan Firth’s marvelously malevolent husband flirts with the servants and tightens the noose.

The real star of the production though is William Dudley’s brilliantly inventive set design which creates a powerfully atmospheric mood from the off, first reinforcing Bella’s fears as her nerves tremble and then shifting to the more supernatural with some seriously impressive video work (Karl Dixon) to expand the horizons of the haunted house. Chris Davey’s lighting and Mic Pool’s sound also contribute to the creepiness of the mood which ultimately, and surprisingly, makes for an ideal Hallowe’en theatrical treat.

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 7th November

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