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Theatre Review: Gaslight ***

Joy Watters reviews a new production of a UK classic.

Writer Patrick Hamilton’s Gaslight has been a popular choice for UK theatre since it was written in 1938, with its blend of psychological drama and crime thriller.

The audience is taken off to Victorian London, to the home of Jack and Bella Manningham where it is revealed within minutes that husband Jack is an extremely nasty piece of work and Bella teetering on the brink of mental collapse.

All the action unfolds in the Manninghams’ 1880s drawing room, a lovely piece of atmospherically-lit painterly design from Kai Fischer, who also directs.

Jack is trying to make his wife mad by constantly undermining her, giving her impossible tasks, hiding belongings and generally making her doubt herself. He openly flirts with the maid; it’s the form of domestic abuse that has given rise to the term ‘gaslighting’.

Robin Laing underplays Jack, not quite capturing the dandy and man about town who is a tyrant at home. Esme Bayley as Bella has a haunted look as the young wife, terrified she will end up insane like her mother before her.

Bella wonders where her husband goes every night and why the gaslights dim every so often. She seems doomed never to know, but then retired detective Inspector Rough enters.

No longer the knight to the rescue of previous productions, Fischer has cast seasoned performer Meg Fraser in the role.

Rough arrives in a driving suit and goggles ready to ping off the head reminiscent of Rikki Fulton’s Supercop and Fraser’s performance is comic gold, at times striding about the stage sorting out the mystery, supporting Bella and bringing Jack to his knees, all in her native Wick brogue. Rough reveals Jack is a thief and a blackguard and Bella is empowered to strike back.

Runs at Perth Theatre until April 6.

Tags: theatre

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