The term ‘gaslighting’ – the psychological manipulation of a person carried out with the intention of making them doubt their sanity – comes from Patrick Hamilton’s seminal 1938 drama.
In Hamilton’s play, the terrified Mrs Manningham is being slowly driven out of her mind by her overbearing husband, a man with a murky past. With its vaguely supernatural undertones and old-school detective character Rough, it is a precursor to many modern police dramas, which probably goes some way to explain its continued popularity.
Robin Herford’s new production is straightforward but effective. The first half drags a little, but this is partly the nature of the play. Most of the action has taken place several years previously and Herford deals with the exposition-heavy first act by keeping the pacing tight.
The performances are strong, with David Acton’s Rough presenting a very different energy to that of Charlotte Brimble’s Mrs Manningham. Acton, in particular, is superb, playfully diffusing the tension with whisky and words of encouragement to his fragile charge. Brimble has the more difficult task of playing the role of the victim, but she handles it admirably and is convincingly unsettled by Damien Matthews as the frightening Mr Manningham.
Herford’s production also features a wonderfully atmospheric set by Michael Holt, framed by brass pipes and evoking a Victorian home. Although the play is for the most part a three-hander, Angela Sims, as faithful housekeeper Elizabeth, and Rhiannon Handy, as the maid Nancy, bring a welcome lightness to this otherwise tense drama.