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Gaslight review at New Victoria Theatre, Woking – ‘creaky and mannered’

Rupert Young and Kara Tointon in Gaslight at New Victoria, Woking
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Patrick Hamilton’s Gaslight has been a mainstay of rep companies since its original production in Richmond in 1938. These days the psychological melodrama feels a bit creaky but there is a lightness of touch in Hamilton’s writing, particularly with retired policeman Rough, that humanises what is essentially a three-hander.

Anthony Banks’ production struggles to establish the necessary sense of danger purely through the performances. It takes Howard Hudson’s atmospheric lighting design and David Woodfield’s heavily-angled set to lend the production a claustrophobic air. Banks also thoughtfully incorporates a few special effects to hammer home the supernatural elements of the story that are alluded to in the script. Ben and Max Ringham’s score and sound-scape is less successful though and seems far too deliberately layered on for shock value.

Kara Tointon throws everything at the character of Bella – whose husband is trying to convince her she’s going insane – resulting in an oddly mannered performance both physically and vocally. In fairness, it’s a difficult role to unravel for a contemporary audience without falling into melodrama. Rupert Young fairs a little better as her duplicitous, bigamist husband Jack Manningham, but then villains sketched out as plainly as this are still a staple of modern drama.

The mysterious Rough is far and away the most recognisable character in the play, a prototype of Columbo, Frost and Barnaby: intelligent, distinctly likeable working-class detectives. Here Keith Allen is playing to his strengths. Allen picks out the touches of humour in Hamilton’s script and in the process, reassures us that justice may prevail.

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Verdict
Old fashioned, mannered psychological thriller lacking dramatic intensity  
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