REVIEW: Charles Hutchinson’s verdict on Gaslight at Harrogate Theatre ****

Giving him back a taste of his own medicine: Bella Manningham (Faye Weerasinghe) turns on husband Jack (Robin Simpson) in HT Rep’s Gaslight

HT Rep in Gaslight, Harrogate Theatre/Phil & Ben Productions, today at 2.30pm and 7.30pm. Box office: 01423 502116 or

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.

Faye Weerasinghe’s Bella in Gaslight: “On edge, fragile, enervated…and abused, a victim of mental torment”

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.

Ian Kirkby’s dapper inspector, looking to administer his brand of Rough justice in Gaslight

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.

Nancy (Kate Dean) adjusts the gaslight in Gaslight, amid the gloom of Jack (Robin Simpson) and Bella (Faye Weerasinghe) Manningham’s domestic blister

REVIEW: Charles Hutchinson’s verdict on Abigail’s Party at Harrogate Theatre ****

Elvis is in the building: Beverly (Katy Dean) reaches for a Presley platter as the party atmosphere turns ever more awkward in Abigail’s Party. Paul Hawkyard’s Tony, left, and Robin Simpson’s Laurence keep their distance. Faye Seerawinghe’s Angela, seated, left, and Janine Mellor’s Sue, await with trepidation. All pictures: Ant Robling, Robling Photography

Abigail’s Party, HT Rep, Harrogate Theatre/Phil & Ben Productions, at Harrogate Theatre, 7.30pm tonight and tomorrow; 2.30pm, 7.30pm, Saturday. Box office: 01423 502116 or

HARROGATE Theatre’s HT Rep 2022 season of Three Plays, Three Weeks, One Cast opens with Mike Leigh’s caustic comedy Abigail’s Party, written in 1977, the year of The Queen’s Silver Jubilee and now revived in the year of her Platinum Jubilee.

Director Marcus Romer, Harrogate Theatre’s associate producer, had planned to have the Sex Pistols’ 1977 anthem God Save The Queen seeping through the walls from Abigail’s punk and booze-fuelled party next door, but the events of last Thursday afternoon saw a respectful change to Anarchy In The UK.

Romer has form for Abigail’s Party, having steered York Theatre Royal’s 2005 repertory production. Now the spirit of rep theatre is being repeated in a third such autumn season at Harrogate, the cast piggy-backing from one play to the next, rehearsing Abigail’s Party for a week, and now rehearsing Patrick Hamilton’s Gaslight by day and staging Leigh’s suburban comedy of awkward social-climbing manners by night.

Husband-and-wife strife in Abigail’s Party: Robin Simpson’s Laurence and Katy Dean’s Beverly having a difference of opinion…again

The same process will follow next week, when Paul Hawkyard, Robin Simpson and Janine Mellor will knock John Godber’s Men Of The World into shape in the daytime rehearsal room under Amy Burns Walker’s direction before Harrogate-born Faye Weerasinghe, Simpson, Harrogate pantomime regular Katy Dean, Mellor and Ian Kirkby form co-producer Ben Roddy’s cast each night for Gaslight.

In rep tradition, there is a familiarity to the cast, not only Dean, but also Mellor from the 2019 HT Rep season’s On The Piste and Deathtrap and her dual roles as Dandini and a Snugly Sister in last winter’s Cinderella, while rising star Weerasinghe played the lead in Full English at Harrogate Theatre in June.

York audiences, meanwhile, will need no introduction to Hawkyard and Simpson, whether from Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre or their Mardy and Manky double act in Cinderella at the Theatre Royal last winter. Captain Hook and Mrs Darling await them in All New Adventures Of Peter Pan this winter.

Now put them all together in surely one of the most destructive yet indestructible of English comedies. Your reviewer is yet to see a duff production and Romer’s return to Leigh is another winner.

The quiet and the constant noise: Janine Mellor’s Sue and Katy Dean’s Beverly

It is Katy Dean’s turn to behave appallingly in the Alison Stedman-patented lead role of gauche Beverly, dark haired this time rather than bottle-blonde but still over-dressed for cheese and pineapple-stick nibbles in her fuchsia party dress.

Embroiled in a stultifying game of one-upmanship with dyspeptic, workaholic property-agent husband Laurence (Simpson), their latest playground for point-scoring is a soiree for their new neighbours, taciturn ex-professional footballer Tony (Hawkyard) and nervous nurse Angela (Weerasinghe) in their oh-so Seventies’ North London living room.

Joining them with reluctance written all over her face is Sue (Mellor), banished from her 15-year-old daughter’s party, fretful that it will get out of hand. as it inevitably does.

Leigh depicts a Britain heading towards the acquisitive Thatcherite era of material greed. Already the status-symbol fibre-optic lamps, drinks cabinet and brown sofas are in place in Geoff Gilder’s design.

Faye Weerasinghe’s Angela, left, and Katy Dean’s Beverly, standing, attend to Janine Mellor’s Sue after one too many top-ups

Tensions rise, tempers flare, the polite veneer gradually erodes under the influence as Dean’s monstrous Beverly has her sport at the hands of her guests and mocked husband amid the surfeit of gin top-ups and chain-smoked “little cigarettes”, with her recourse to Donna Summer, Demis Roussos and Elvis records failing to break the awkwardness.

For all her restless noise and surface swagger, the tactless and tasteless Beverly is lonely behind the perma-cigarette haze, frustrated by the absence of bedroom action, empty too, for all her superficial possessions and on-trend kitchen gadgets.  Full of aspiration yet desperation.

Simpson’s Laurence is sullen and sunken in Beverly’s loud, crushing shadow, stewing at his shallow wife’s dismissal of his tentative, self-improving interest in art.

New to your reviewer, wide-eyed Weerasinghe is outstanding as the effusive, chatterbox nurse Angela, talking ever looser as the gin kicks in, then dancing as out of time as a stopped clock.

Paul Hawkyard’s taciturn Tony on the turn

Hawkyard, meanwhile, maximises minimum words as the humourless Tony, whose imposing demeanour goes from monosyllabic indifference to not-funny wound-up menace to sudden snapping point.

Mellor’s Sue is Leigh’s quiet voice of excruciating middle-class discomfort, stuck in the middle yet desperate to be elsewhere, having to put up with Beverly’s insensitive inquisition about her marriage breakdown and Angela’s well-meant over-fussing.

Very 1977 and yet full of English characteristics that have not changed, and probably never will, Leigh’s writing is as sharp as a punk safety pin, his contempt unconfined for values so anathema to him, his humour merciless and deeply wounding.

Romer squeezes Leigh’s sour lemon to the max, knowing just how far to go for the juiciest bitter comedy when Beverly keeps going too far. One hell of a party, one hell of a play, one hell of a knockout production.

Keith Allen plays The Homecoming to the Max in third role in Pinter’s brutal comedy

Keith Allen as brutal patriarch Max, ruling his sons with threats and violence, in The Homecoming

KEITH Allen is completing a hattrick of roles spread over 25 years in Harold Pinter’s darkly comic power struggle The Homecoming, on tour at York Theatre Royal from tonight.

At the National Theatre, in 1997, the Welsh actor, comedian, television presenter, documentary maker and rousing punk musician played university professor Teddy, returning from America with his wife Ruth to find his two brothers, Joey and Lenny, and elderly father Max still living at their North London family home.

In 2015, at the Trafalgar Studios, London, he was cast as Uncle Sam. “Now I’m playing Max but that’s as far as I can go because I’m too old to play Joey or Lenny,” says Keith, 68. “Max is the patriarch of a very misogynistic household. Every character is repressed to the nth degree but while most of them repress their rage Max doesn’t.

“He had a very interesting relationship with his now-dead wife that has coloured his whole life and he’s in a household where they’re all playing games and trying to top each other. Everything that’s done is for a reason and it’s usually to get one over on someone else.”

Keith compares former butcher Max to a raging sheep: “If you’ve ever been in a field with a very angry tup, you don’t want to be there. I’ve been there and they don’t back down.”

Director Jamie Glover and actor Mathew Horne, who is playing pimp Lenny, always had Allen in mind for their Pinter project “They’re close mates, and the genesis of the idea to do a Pinter play came from them. They took their idea to Danny Moar at [the Theatre Royal] Bath, originally wanting to do The Caretaker, but the Pinter estate offered the rights to The Homecoming instead.”

Glover and Horne were unsure whether Allen would want to return to Pinter’s 1965 fractured family drama, but “Max is a part I’ve always had my eye on,” says Keith. “I was very lucky to be offered it and I’m very pleased to be doing it.”

After all, The Homecoming is considered to be Pinter’s finest work in its exploration of toxic masculinity, stultifying patriarchy, one-upmanship feuds and sexual powerplays. “I’ve always thought Pinter was a poet before he was a playwright and the poetry is amazing. This whole play is about language and very particular choices of words, which is why as an actor you have to be very on-the-ball about the grammar.

Keith Allen’s Max, seated, and Mathew Horne’s Lenny, centre, in The Homecoming

“I think the lyricism of the play is extraordinarily attractive and the tension has people constantly going, ‘What on earth is happening and what’s going to happen next?’.”

Keith praises not only the writing, but the “brilliant structure” too, describing it as a feat of engineering. “As an actor, you just get your skis on and let the skis guide you,” says the skiing enthusiast.

What does Keith recall of his first performance in The Homecoming? “That was in 1997, directed by Roger Michell, who died last September, bless him. I remember feeling I’d let the cast down in rehearsals, as I would forget my lines, make things up and trip my way through it, playing Teddy to Lindsay Duncan’s Ruth.

“But I got a handle on it in the end, and it was a brilliant way to learn about being still on stage, which is a great skill to master, when a lot of actors get scared if they’re not doing anything.”

Comparing the productions, Keith says: “I have to say that all three have had very different qualities. This one is very funny, much funnier than the other two, because the director chose that path. Jamie Lloyd’s production in 2015 was much bleaker; this one is genuinely funny but also very discerning.

“A hefty contributory factor to that humour is that these men are idiots. They’re fantasists, all trying to be top dog, and that’s funny to watch.”

Assessing The Homecoming’s impact on audiences in 2022, by comparison with 1965, Keith says: “Misogyny is very present in the play, as is generational jealousy within a family. The mother is dead but she looms very large in everyone’s memory, especially Max’s because he loathed her.

“When the play was first performed, I don’t think anyone had seen anything quite so vicious and measured before. Now it’s interesting for different reasons because we’re living in a time where women are becoming far more recognised and are on a far more equal footing.

“As an actor, you just get your skis on and let the skis guide you,” says Keith Allen of the art of performing in a Pinter play

“There are things in the play that could be misconstrued as being abusive to women and, because of the times we’re living in, audiences might react very quickly to certain things which they wouldn’t necessarily have reacted to before.”

Keith has “previous” for Pinter, not only appearing in The Homecoming but also in Pinter 3: Landscape/A Kind Of Alaska in the West End and The Celebration and The Room, both directed by Pinter himself at the Almeida Theatre, London, in 2000 and in New York in 2001. 

“You very quickly realised that Harold chose people for what they could do; he was very careful in his casting,” Keith recalls. “He wouldn’t ask you to act a part, but to ‘be’, so he left you alone and watched.”

As for Pinter’s advice on his notorious use of pauses, “he once quite frivolously said to us, ‘if the pauses don’t work, **** it’, but actually they do work,” says Keith. “It works like a musical score in that what comes before dictates what comes after. It’s all about rhythm.”

After a five-year hiatus, Keith will enjoy his return to York, where he was last seen on stage as Inspector Rough in Patrick Hamilton’s thriller Gaslight at the Grand Opera House in February 2017. ” York is lovely because you’re near the river and there are some lovely pubs,” he says.

“I really like touring. I like the fact that you’re on the move and it’s as if you’re having an opening night every week because you’re in a different space, in a different theatre, with a different ambience.

” I like to fit in some golf wherever I go and I have an ingrained curiosity about corrugated iron chapels and buildings, so I always see if I can find one or two to go and have a look at.”

Theatre Royal, Bath, presents Harold Pinter’s The Homecoming, York Theatre Royal, tonight until Saturday; 7.30pm, plus 2pm, Thursday; 2.30pm, . Box office: 01904 623568 or at

Keith Allen as Inspector Rough and Kara Tointon as Bella Manningham in Gaslight at the Grand Opera House, York, in February 2017