Moss Banks Productions presented their version of GASLIGHT by Patrick Hamilton at the Maddermarket Theatre last week. First seen in 1938, the play is a psychological thriller, exploring the relationship between an evil manipulative husband with a dark secret, and his gentle but tormented wife who is led to fear that she is going insane. Her fears are gradually laid to rest by the revelations of Detective Rough, who visits the house after her husband has left the house that evening. The director Alexander Banks describes his production as one that “echoes the original”, staying true to the source material, while “evolving the characters to fit modern expectations”.
Christopher Neal played Mr Jack Manningham, the cruelly manipulative husband, who used his power and influence to torment his wife. Within minutes of the play starting, Jack had revealed his true nature, his dark secret unfolding as the play progressed. Neal’s passive aggressive take on the role of Jack was well performed and believable, suggestive of a troubled mind.
Joanna Swan put in a credible performance as Mrs Bella Manningham, who, tormented by her husband, believed she was losing her mind, going mad as her mother did before her. Her fears were fuelled by strange events occurring in the house, for which she is blamed but has no memory of. Swan portrayed Bella with a good mix of insecurity and braveness, cleverly showing the progression of the character from helpless and fearful to strong and remorseless.
As Rough, Peta Morrant rather stole the show, with his excited performance of a man coming close to finally achieving a life’s ambition and catching a criminal who had eluded him for so long. At times deadly serious, and at others somewhat manic, with a comedic touch just enough to lighten the dark tone of the play, Morrant gave the audience some relief with some well-timed moments of wit.
The three stars were ably supported by Glenda Gardiner as the Manningham’s loyal and caring servant Elizabeth, and Amy Ellis as the flirtatious and mischievous maid Nancy.
Adding to the play’s haunting atmosphere was the eerie flicker of the gaslights, indicating the comings and goings of Jack in the Victorian house after he supposedly left Bella alone for the evening. The darkness of the top floor was used for good effect showing Jack under cover of shadow, as he lurked around causing his wife not inconsiderable distress.
On a more critical note, it might have been interesting to see more depth to the main characters, with the two leads gradually building up to their full emotional states – although they did give believable performances throughout. Also, to have the comings and goings of the top floor insinuated off stage might have added a greater sense of mystery.
Overall, Gaslight was a well-presented and convincing production by all cast members. A simple play that lends itself well to a small stage, it was a delight to watch and will appeal to anyone who enjoys a detective crime drama.