Sunday, 24 March 2019

Landmark Thirties drama still has plenty to say to us in 2019

Landmark Thirties drama still has plenty to say to us in 2019

Gaslight | Mill at Sonning | Thursday, February 28

AN old ’un but a good ’un, that’s Gaslight — strangely satisfying despite its simple storyline.

And with director Robin Herford at the controls to ratchet up the suspense there are plenty of thrills along the way.

At its heart is the sadly evergreen problem of a manipulative man undermining a woman by the constant drip of criticism and fault-finding.

The play gave the term “gaslighting” to the world of criminal psychology.

It was written in 1938 and referred back to a mid-Victorian period when women had no power nor even ownership — a man could marry them for their dowry then psychologically abuse them to the point of breakdown.

So this lively production has a moral backbone. But it’s also an entertainment and manages to be whodunnit, thriller, suspense and cold case murder mystery.

There’s room for each strand as they’re steadily ticked off — the whodunnit is dealt with quite early in the play as we learn who done it and who will have done it again if they have the chance. Damien Matthews’s Jack Manningham is a murderous chancer who has reduced his wife to a nervous wreck through his constant carping. At night he patrols an upstairs floor where no one else may go.

The cavalry arrives in the shape of a dogged police detective. Patiently he reveals all to the shredded wife. But will he gather the evidence in time to prevent any more damage?

That’s where the suspense and thrills come in — and a special mention for playwright Patrick Hamilton’s final scene with Mrs Manningham exacting a vengeful retribution.

No great surprises, but its very simplicity lends it its power. More than anything we invest in the characters — the cast of Angela Sims, Rhiannon Handy, Charlotte Brimble and especially David Acton and Damien Matthews are never less than convincing. And Matthews particularly has us squirming with disgust at his bullying husband.

Until mid-April.

Mike Rowbottom

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