Wednesday, 9 October 2019

REVIEW: Gaslight at the Watford Palace Theatre

A play-within-a-play set in a women’s refuge, this production of Patrick Hamilton’s Gaslight boasts an all-female cast. The cast are all escaping domestic abuse at home and perform Hamilton’s classic thriller in the living room of their refuge while stage directions are read out through a microphone in true Brechtian style.

Hamilton’s writing is suspenseful and exciting whilst being somewhat predictable due to its simple structure, but this doesn’t take away from the standout performances of the night. Sally Tatum takes on the role of Bella Manningham, the downtrodden and abused wife of the man of the house, Jack Manningham (Jasmine Jones). Tatum’s performance stays honest and true throughout which is no easy task with so much fear, anger and distress in a character. 

Inspector Rough, traditionally an older gentleman, is portrayed by Tricia Kelly who tackles the confident, strong and humble Inspector with ease and joy.

Jones’ Jack leaves more to be desired, however. Her portrayal of a dominating and aggressive man is more stereotypical in contrast to the other more rounded and honest characters in the piece. Jones’ Irish accent felt under rehearsed and, especially in long dialogue, became an obstruction to our view on their world. What must not go unmentioned though is her ability to strike fear into the audience; there were glorious moments where I felt so uncomfortable at the actions of the grotesque figure man-spreading around the stage.

Nancy and Elizabeth are the servants of the house and played by Hannah Hutch and Sandra James-Young. Hutch’s Nancy has a whimsical energy and almost pranced around the space, knowing that the master of the house will let her get away with anything if she gives him the same treatment as the ladies that he pays for do. Contrast that with James-Youngs Elizabeth who is a far more matronly and kinder soul, we have a wonderful pairing.

Richard Beecham’s concept is perfectly suited to today’s audience and our perception of ‘gaslighting’ (a form of domestic abuse where the abuser manipulates the victim into questioning their sanity). Although the cast and crew worked closely with Watford Women’s Centre Plus, the production did not delve into the lives of the women playing out Hamilton’s text which could have been hugely insightful and informative and really pull this show into 2019. 

The living room of the refuge which doubles as the stage for the drama therapy session on which we look was wonderfully and intricately designed by Naomi Dawson and cleverly lit with practical and non-practical lighting by Anna Watson. A wonderful production and a great venue, but to really hit home it needed that insight into the world of domestic abuse from which these women come. 

Review by Max Topliss

Rating: ★★★

Seat: STALLS K3 | Price of Ticket: £25.00
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