jack and bella

Rupert Young as the cruel Jack Manningham with Kara Tointon as his wife Bella.


Malvern Theatres


GONE are the days when your lights dim because someone switches on the lights elsewhere in the house.

However, in the home of Jack and Bella Manningham in North London in the 1870s such clues are part of the unravelling of the murderer.

As the programme notes indicate Gaslight is a direct descendent of the Victorian melodrama. The dramatic sense of a beautiful and innocent female at the mercy of a vicious threat that is closing in upon her is presented with a fascinating mixture of thrilling intensity and gentle send-up.

The stylised performance from the character of Rough especially, and some of the melodramatic stage effects, invite occasional laughter from the audience without detracting from the gripping moments in the play.

Patrick Hamilton wrote ‘Gaslight’ in 1938 but the play depicts a family in a society where women were pretty much the property of their husbands. Jack Manningham treats his wife Bella with patronising disdain and is driving her towards insanity as he manipulates her cruelly and plays tricks on her. His pursuit of hidden or lost treasure and his hidden backstory begin to be exposed by the arrival of a somewhat eccentric visitor called Rough.

Victorian bustle dresses and men in tailcoats in an elegant drawing room establish a lovely atmosphere for the drama to unfold.

Bella is played beautifully by Kara Tointon and is the centre of the action. From the outset her gait and her slightly eccentric mannerisms indicate a sensitive and vulnerable character who nonetheless has winsome charm and warmth.

Her performance is wonderfully modulated and controlled. She has an excellent, strong and clear voice that ensures we hear every word. Her character develops through the play and in the final scene she reveals real bite! Her performance is brilliant.

Rupert Young plays her aggressive husband Jack. He has a great stage presence with his height and stentorian voice. Again excellent diction combines with elegant costume. Initially he seems to be kind towards his confused and troubled wife, but very soon his sharp and venomous side appears as he orders her around the house and threatens her with punishments for a missing shopping receipt.

Keith Allen’s performance as Rough provides a lovely balance to the married couple. His slightly sharp but eccentric manner provides a significant element of humour. Quickly the initial element of threat he brings becomes something comforting and reassuring.

The housekeeper and the maid are nicely contrasted. Helen Anderson has an appropriate measure of dignity in her role, whereas Charlotte Blackledge is wonderfully saucy and insolent.

The lighting effects and the music contribute significantly to a very atmospheric production. The contributions of the technical team are excellent and enhance the show in subtle ways. The director has managed the pace of the show very well: the timing of the actors’ lines and pauses are perfectly controlled.

‘Gaslight’ is a great show and thoroughly entertaining. To 04-03-17.

Tim Crow


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