Mortimer Dramatic Society
Gaslight, 1st to 2nd June and 8th to 9th June
By Patrick Hamilton. First performed in 1938 the play takes us back to the fog-bound London of the 1880’s. Set in the upper middle class home of Jack Manningham and his wife Bella the action begins in the late afternoon; a time which the author notes as being "before the feeble dawn of gaslight and tea". Bella is perturbed by the strange and inexplicable goings on in the house. Her husband’s unexplained and mysterious disappearances only add to her anxiety, which is made worse when he refuses to tell he where he is going. As the drama unfolds it becomes clear that Manningham is intent on convincing Bella that she is going insane, even to the point of making her believe that she is imagining the frequent dimming of the gaslight in the house. Bella is put under further pressure with the appearance of a police detective who claims that it is her husband who is responsible for her torment and who has a secret and sinister motive for his actions.
This gripping drama had an initial successful six month sell-out run in the West End’s Apollo Theatre before transferring to Broadway (where it was re-titled “Angel Street”). Angel Street was also a hit in its Broadway premiere, and it remains one of the longest-running non-musicals in Broadway history, with 1,295 total performances and has gone on to be revived both in West End and on Broadway. The play was adapted for film twice: the 1940 British film Gaslight, directed by Thorold Dickinson and the 1944 American film of the same name, directed by George Cukor. When the British film version was released in America, it was again re-titled Angel Street, to avoid confusion with the American film.
St John's Hall, 22 West End Road, Mortimer Common, RG7 3TF.
Book online via the website or call Tom on 0778 533 3321 or Terri Chopping on 0118 966 2206.
Review of Gaslight
1st to 2nd June and 8th to 9th June 2018
Review from Newbury Theatre.
Patrick Hamilton’s psychological thriller gave rise to the term gaslighting, meaning “to cause someone to doubt their sanity through the use of psychological manipulation”.
The play is set in 1880 in the home of the middle-class Manninghams and as the curtains open we see their sitting room. This is a ‘wow’ moment – the set is magnificent. The programme doesn’t credit a Set Designer (I suspect John Bull), but it’s beautifully detailed (picture rail and dado rail), decorated and furnished and looks just right. MDS always produce impressive sets, but this was something special.
Jack Manningham dominates his wife Bella and is wearing her down, making her think she’s going mad. The unexpected arrival of a detective, Inspector Rough, sheds a different light on things and as the play progresses the interactions of the three main characters leads us to a satisfactory conclusion.
Sarah Roper, as Bella Manningham, is excellent as she deals with her own fears as well as being pulled in different directions by Jack and Rough. This was a thoroughly believable performance, with her elation over the theatre trip turning to despair and doubt, all done without overplaying the emotions and helped by her expressive face.
Strong performances too from the two maids: Elizabeth (Kerry Thomas), sympathetic and loyal, and the cockney Nancy (Helen Sharpe), cheeky and flirty.
Iain Vernon Wilson played Jack, the superior and sinister paterfamilias, and James Burton Stewart was confident as Rough.
But… the old MDS bugbear: prompts and fluffed lines. There were literally dozens of them on the first Saturday – naming no names, but you know who you are. This destroys the pace and is extremely unsettling for the audience (and the cast!). Sorry, MDS, but it isn’t good enough. You’ve got good actors but they must know their lines.
Director Lawrence Picking made good use of the set, although Rough seemed to wander around randomly at times.
A great set complemented with some splendid costumes, a good play and good acting, but too many prompts.
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