Gaslight by Patrick Hamilton


I discovered in the course of doing some light research into this play, that its title gave rise to the description of a psychological phenomena, gaslighting. Gaslighting is outlined as the systematic manipulation of one person by another. This form of mental assault distorts the victims perception of reality. It is a form of abuse that over time can lead to mental health issues and even suicide.

This short review is based on a viewing of the penultimate performance, the matinee on Saturday 7th November 2015.

Royal and Derngate Theatre entrance

Royal and Derngate Theatre entrance

The Royal and Derngate theatre is a strange mixture, the old juxtaposed with the new. The complex not only features two theatres but also a cinema and spaces for more family orientated workshops.

The Royal is a 130 year old Victorian theatre that can accommodate up to 400+ guests. When you walk into the auditorium you notice the close intimacy of this theatre. The stalls open out in a fan before the stage while the upper galleries circle overhead. The first thing that catches your eye is the elaborately painted safety curtain, Sipario Dipinto as it’s also called. Painted by local artist Henry Bird, it depicts cherubim alongside people connected with the theatre, most notably Errol Flynn. Currently the Royal are running a restoration appeal to raise £30,000 to complete the preservation of this beautiful part of the theatre.

Safety Curtain at the Royal Derngate Theatre

Safety Curtain at the Royal Derngate Theatre

This Made in Northampton production of the 1938 play Gaslight by British writer Patrick Hamilton, was directed by Lucy Bailey with a homely set designed by William Dudley. The performance occurs entirely in a Victorian living room, which in this production made use of a transparent backdrop that was used to good effect. The only thing that didn’t seem to work as good as intended was the use of projections. They did little to enhance the plot and seemed to be a little O.T.T. in their execution. The lighting by Chris Davey however added to the atmosphere of the play. There was a warm glow from the fire and the gaslights as part of the set became almost another character. The light was used effectively to show the shifting of Bella’s psychological state. This medium, used in conjunction with Nell Catchpole’s minimalist soundtrack only added to the tension on stage.

gaslight cast

There was no fault to be found in the casting. Most notable were familiar names, Jonathan Firth and Tara Fitzgerald, both who have had successful television careers as well as on stage. Fitzgerald played the persecuted wife who questioned her own sanity. She looked tortured and tiptoed around the aggressive husband (Firth) who flew into uncontrollable rages. He played the part like Janus, one face was jovial and all toothy smiles and the second showed a more sinister, domineering side. Firth’s body language on stage was that of arms continuously folded as he struggled to contain his anger. Somehow it made the viewer question who the ‘real’ mad character was?

Photo by Donald Cooper

Photo by Donald Cooper

A welcome relief from the angst portrayed by the Victorian couple, Firth and Fitzgerald was Paul Hunter’s Rough. He portrayed a retried detective who had a penchant for the odd dram of whisky or three. His comedy was much needed in a play with such a dark plot. Without his presence the audience would have been lost in Fitzgerald’s madness.

Though the play was billed as a thriller it had all the hallmarks of a detective drama too. It was a thoroughly entertaining way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

© Christine Lucas 2015

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One thought on “Gaslight by Patrick Hamilton

  1. Pingback: Looking Back, and Ahead. | Christine Lucas

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