Richard Beecham’s update of Patrick Hamilton’s play boasts a simple but clever premise: a group of women living in a safe house to escape domestic abuse are putting on a production of Hamilton’s 1938 original.
The group’s leader (Tricia Kelly) reads out the stage directions through crackly microphone and the other women perform the piece in the snug but tatty living space.
It works really well. The concept both makes complete sense and makes this well-worn play, originally written as melodramatic pastiche, feel fresh. Beecham’s production makes it feel like an all-too-real rendering of a controlling relationship and a way for the women to revisit their own personal trauma.
Jasmine Jones is superb as the woman playing Jack Manningham, swaggering and manspreading around the apartment. She’s genuinely scary when doling out petty humiliations to Jack’s wife Bella and the servants, especially the cruel moment when she insists Elizabeth (Sandra James-Young) get down on the floor and lap up milk from a saucer.
As Bella Manningham, Sally Tatum is palpably strung out and as brittle as a smashed plate glued clumsily back together. She’s perennially startled and spooked, especially by Nancy (Hannah Hutch), the unperturbed maid.
Both women intermittently break out of their Gaslight characters as the emotional toll of performing certain lines or behaviours becomes too much. It’s these moments that are the most affecting: for the women living in the safe house, this story isn’t a Victorian melodrama, it’s their truth.