“I’m going out of my mind!” gasps the vapid and wide-eyed Bella. Patrick Hamilton’s psychological thriller, Gaslight, opened at Aylesbury’s Waterside Theatre last night and it had its audience on the edge of their seat.
Was Kara Tointon’s drippy heroine, Bella, losing the plot as her mother had before her? Would her vile, abusive, and controlling husband, Jack (the bounder) get his comeuppance?
Who was the dapper mystery man who liked a tipple before the sun goes down, what happened to the Barlow Rubies and – furthermore – what’s going on upstairs that makes the gaslights dim each night?
There’s enough plot in Gaslight to keep the most ardent fan enthralled for its full two hours. What starts off as a particularly evil campaign by Rupert Young’s sadistic Jack to drive his wife mad turns into a good, old fashioned Victorian melodrama.
Young is so unconscionably evil that the poor man was (good-naturedly) booed when he took his bow on opening night – and he probably has to endure similar treatment nightly for the next eight weeks.
Jack is so appalling in Gaslight that there were audible gasps from the audience as his behaviour towards his wife escalated from mind-games into physical violence. I half expected someone in the theatre to shout out “Unhand her, you brute!”
Instead her saviour comes from an unlikely quarter. Enter Detective Rough, who is a bit of a diamond. The now retired copper hung up his badge and halo without solving the biggest case of his career (isn’t it always the way?).
A woman had been murdered and her house ransacked in an attempt to find her stash of jewellery which included the fabled Barlow rubies.
Twenty years on Rough (by name and smooth by nature), returns to the scene of the crime to warn the vulnerable Bella Manningham that all is not what it seems with her husband.
Bella is on the brink…and that’s just where Jack wants her. As lord and master he has his wicked way with the staff and spends his nights with whores while his poor wife sits at home slowly going mad.
Kara Tointon, currently a cheeky cabaret singer in ITV’s The Halcyon, plays Bella to perfection. Pale, innocent, and easily manipulated, she wrings her hands and throws herself about in the grips of her husband’s diabolical influence.
The tall Rupert Young physically and mentally overpowers his co-star, with Jack browbeating the poor Bella into submission. It is a brilliant performance by both actors.
Keith Allen brings moments of levity into production with his copper, Rough, who is a dab hand at breaking and entering, likes a dram or three of Scotch, and prides himself on his rather smart appearance.
Being a fan of the genre I have to say that Hamilton’s story is riddled with holes and doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.
And director Anthony Banks’ silly gimmicks with a mirror, shock lighting effects, and a ghostly apparition, were entirely unnecessary.
But overall this is a classy and atmospheric production.
Running at The Waterside Theatre until Saturday.
2017 Tour Dates
January 23-28, New Victoria Theatre, Woking
January 30-February 4, Grand Opera House, York
February 6- 11, Theatre Royal, Brighton
February 13-18, Cambridge Arts Theatre
February 20-25, Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield
March 6-11, Richmond Theatre
March 14-18, Cardiff, New Theatre.
Rupert Young and Kara Tointon play cat & mouse in Patrick Hamilton’s gripping melodrama, Gaslight, at Aylesbury Waterside Theatre.