‘Gaslight’ At Progress Theatre from 2015

Progress Theatre’s latest production is ‘Gaslight’ by Patrick Hamilton. The play explores the relationship between Bella Manningham (Nicola Howe) and her manipulative, devious husband Jack (played by Geoff Dallimore). We see Bella constantly in a state of anxiety and fear. Unable to accept or explain why the things her husband accuses her of are as they are, she is an easy target. Nancy, her maid laughs at her and she is trapped. Can she ever see things clearly and if so, are ‘they’ as they appear? Can she recover her wits or ever escape?

The term ‘gaslighting’ actually comes from the title of the play and refers to a gradual psychological manipulation of an individual into doubting their own version of reality. This kind of abuse typically comes from the victim’s partner or somebody they trust and is a very subtle but effective form of control. The victim might well come to doubt their own sanity and be unable to make reliable choices or break free of the abusive relationship. Thus, the abuser will hold a great power over them and often use this to their own ends.

On many levels Progress Theatre has again created an excellent production. Laura Mills direction was dramatic and well paced. Aidan Moran’s set design was (as in their past work I’ve seen) superb. Props and Lighting too (by Martin Noble, Tony Powell, Liz Paulo) were atmospheric and added to the period evocation. Costumes by Helen Wernham were notable too. Also known in the US as ‘Angel Street’, the play was written in 1938 and has been made into two films; the George Cukor MGM 1944 version and the more faithful-to-the-play low budget earlier British version (which is generally regarded as superior).

As for this production, if there was a drawback, it was in the fact that the performances were varied. Although I appreciate the necessity (and difficulty) of creating an even and believable characterisation throughout the performance, I found that Nicola Howe and Geoff Dallimore had a tendency to lapse into characture. I think in the interests of adding depth it would have been more convincing if they had gradually built up to those heightened emotional states, rather than beginning with them (and continuing throughout the duration of the play at the same peak).

Other highlights for me were the supporting roles. Martin Walker (as Inspector Rough) played the part well with a sense of humour. Alison Hill (Elizabeth the maid) was convincing. But it was Marie French as Nancy the maid who stole the show for me.

All in all, I enjoyed the play and look forward to their next production.

(C) 2015 Gideon Hall

(This article was first published in Femalearts Magazine in 2015)