In Imy Wyatt Corner’s production of the 1938 Patrick Hamilton play that gave rise to the now much-used term ‘gaslighting’, she delivers the grim story of Bella and Jack Manningham’s psychologically damaging marriage with minimal frills.
It’s a largely efficient, unassuming handling of the play that holds the attention throughout, but takes few risks.
The slightly inaudible ambient rumblings of Herbert Homer-Warbeck’s sound design err on the side of the nondescript, and though Gregory Jordan’s lighting allows us to see those dreaded lamps throbbing occasionally, it feels like an opportunity missed not to do more with the text.
The boldest choice is designer Kate Halstead’s decision to cover the Playground’s stage in a carpet of sickly Baker-Miller pink, the colour erroneously believed to have a medically soothing effect on people. The furniture of the Manninghams’ house is scattered about the stage as if unmoored, offering nowhere to hide.
The performances are strong. Jemima Murphy (who also co-produces with Katie Berglof) gives a taut performance as Bella Manningham, clad in an appropriately restrictive prairie-style dress. Jordan Wallace’s Jack is a playful bully, casually degrading everything he touches, while Joe McArdle brings a welcome needling impudence and off-kilter levity to the character of the police detective Rough.
There’s a stiffness to the production that goes beyond the Victorian setting, however: there’s not much in the way of movement, and the claustrophobic pressure of this relationship is mostly brought out by Hamilton’s still-powerful play.