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Theatre Review: Gaslight

By Julia Parry | 31st January 2017

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Gaslight at Grand Opera House, York. Keith Allen and Kara Tointon

It is with slight trepidation that I enter The Grand Opera House York to see the touring production of Gaslight, written by Patrick Hamilton. The 1944 George Cukor version of the film with Ingrid Bergman (who won the Oscar for her portrayal of Bella) and Charles Boyer chilled me to the bone when I first saw it. The timing of bringing the theme of gaslighting to the theatre couldn’t be more opportune after the recent compelling Radio 4 Archers storyline on coercive control: both terrifying and deeply frustrating to its listeners.

The play gives the term gaslighting its name, meaning to manipulate (someone) by psychological means into doubting their own sanity; dimming and strengthening gaslight in the play being key to unfolding events in the story.

The set, cleverly designed by David Woodhead, gives an unnerving perspective to a room with invisible walls, giving the impression of not being quite right with its exaggerated Dali-esque perspectives, making the stuffy Victoriana within look slightly out of place. There is a clever use of time passing quickly by the hands on an illuminated grandfather clock face spinning fast with lightning flashes and claps of thunder. The mirror over the mantlepiece is used to excellent effect: when the actors had their backs to the audience, their faces were clearly reflected. A sudden unexpected reflection in the mirror makes the audience gasp in shock.

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Rupert Young and Kara Tointon as Jack and Bella

Keith Allen as the visitor Rough gives a compelling performance, retaining his charisma behind the facade of a Victorian gentleman, his own personality bringing unexpected flashes of humour to a dark, psychological thriller without losing the character of the role. All three leads are particularly effective in their use of vocal expression, especially Bella (Kara Tointon). The play uses stilted, pronounced Queen’s English which emphasises the shocking truth lurking behind the straight-laced Victorian facade; Kara Tointon’s much publicised problems with dyslexia make such a strong performance all the more impressive. Rupert Young as Jack, Bella’s husband, is chilling to watch in his manipulation of Bella, continuing the tradition of Victorian theatre by menacing her innocence with evil.

I cannot go into the story without giving away the plot, suffice to say the theatre was full and the audience gripped throughout.

Director Anthony Banks has made Gaslight a production for the 21st century. As relevant now as it was when written just before the Second World War when Europe was about to change forever, the genius of Patrick Hamilton’s writing was that although the story is set in Victorian times, its message transcends time. Here we are eighty years later, with world uncertainty still dominating our lives and the ‘head of the free world’ accused of gaslighting by the media……

Gaslight is showing at Grand Opera House York until Saturday 4 February. Book tickets by clicking below.

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Rupert Young and Kara Tointon as Jack and Bella

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