HT Rep in Gaslight, Harrogate Theatre/Phil & Ben Productions, today at 2.30pm and 7.30pm. Box office: 01423 502116 or harrogatetheatre.co.uk
THREE Plays, Three Weeks, One Cast, the HT Rep 2022 season at Harrogate Theatre, is in week two.
First up was Mike Leigh’s riotous Seventies’ comedy of bad manners, Abigail’s Party. Next week, John Godber’s bus drivers are at the wheel of Men Of The World.
The meat in the HT Rep sandwich is Gaslight, Patrick Hamilton’s psychological thriller that gave rise to the now familiar term of “gaslighting”, used in British law and endless accusatory domestic arguments alike.
Written in 1938 and suffused with Freudian psychology, this “Hamilton horror” carries the framework of a Victorian melodrama, realised so evocatively in Geoff Gilder’s dark, stifling furniture design, Stephanie Newall’s gloomy, foreboding lighting and Marcus Hutton’s spooky sound design.
As the HT Rep flyer puts it: “It’s London in 1880. Bella Manningham (Faye Weerasinghe) is rich with a nice home and servants – yet she’s lonely. She lives far from her family with her husband, Jack (Robin Simpson), who is stern and overbearing. Before long Bella thinks she may be losing her mind. Or is she?”
Couldn’t have put it better. Who doesn’t love a psychodrama, one that is all the more enjoyable for seeing last week’s company in such contrasting roles?! Weerasinghe’s accent has gone from love-a-duck Essex to Received Pronunciation (RP), and if her fidgety neighbour Angela was overawed, overimpressed and overexcited in Abigail’s Party, now her Bella is even more on edge, fragile, enervated…and abused, a victim of mental torment.
Simpson has transformed from put-upon, belittled husband Lawrence to being the one doing the putting down, the humiliating, as the suffocating, controlling, cruel husband, Jack Manningham. If you have seen Simpson in dame or Ugly Sister mode at York Theatre Royal, then the contrast is even more of a treat.
Dig by dig, drip by drip, Jack is driving Bella towards madness with his combination of staying out every night, maligning her in front of the maid, fancy Nancy, and quizzing her about missing pictures, jewellery and lists.
Katy Dean, boastful but empty hostess Beverley last week, is the saucy young maid this week, while Janine Mellor has switched from timorous neighbour Sue to assured, reassuring, unflappable housekeeper Elizabeth.
The new face in the company is Ian Kirkby, in his one appearance this season as retired detective Rough, who arrives out of thin air, with Jack out on yet another of his secretive errands. Rough by name, but something of a dapper dandy by nature, he is anxious to finally crack a long-unsolved crime in the house.
Kirkby plays Rough with a magician’s flourish, a stern yet kindly air towards Bella and a feather-light comic touch. He carries an air of mystery too, combined with unbreakable investigative purpose as he seeks to bring Rough justice.
Ben Roddy, one half of the HT Rep co-producers Phil & Ben Productions, directs Hamilton’s dark delight with a Rough-like eye for detail, his Gaslight turned up to full effect, replete with Victoriana, suspense and just the right weight of humour.