Thursday, November 05, 2015

'Gaslight' by Patrick Hamilton

5 November

For those of obsessed by 'The Archers' on BBC Radio 4, the excruciating Rob Titchener's ever-increasing control over his new wife, Helen, is one of those storylines that feels both unbearable and completely compelling drama. So it was intriguing, this week, to see a famous precursor of Rob's psychological marital manipulation in Patrick Hamilton's 1938 play 'Gaslight' – which gave its name to a scientific phenomenon. 'Gaslighting' is defined as “manipulating a person by psychological means into questioning his or her own sanity”. The play is set in 1880 and paints a harrowing picture of the power of the Victorian husband. Lucy Bailey's new production, which we saw at the Royal Theatre in Northampton on Tuesday, uses an exaggerated perspective set by William Dudley to frame a modern take on a very old-fashioned play (owing something, perhaps, to Stephen Daldry's famous production of 'An Inspector Calls'). The inventive use of projection to create an apparently never-ending staircase spiralling high above the stage echoed the sense of panic and entrapment that Bella Manningham feels in her house and in her marriage. An excellent cast (Jonathan Firth, Tara Fitzgerald, Alexandra Guelff and Paul Hunter) was augmented by members of local amateur theatre companies (now, wonderfully, a standard practice at the Royal & Derngate). 'Gaslight' is a disturbing play but avoids descending into melodrama and The Royal & Derngate production is very impressive.

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