New Era Players: Gaslight, at New Era Theatre, Wash Common, from Wednesday, March 9, to Saturday, March 19
Fans of The Archers are familiar (some might say all too familiar) with a storyline in which a wicked husband tries to make his wife believe she is going mad. Patrick Hamilton's Gaslight has an older pedigree. First performed in 1938, this Victorian psychological thriller remains a favourite with audiences and was a good choice for New Era Players' latest production, directed by Janet Bennett.
The first star was the set, an authentic-looking Victorian drawing-room in the home of Bella and Jack Manningham, who had lived there with maids Elizabeth (Kathleen Ray) and Nancy (Jenni Collins) for six months.
Jack (Stephen Bennett) treats his wife appallingly, at one moment offering her a treat, then raging at her, insisting that she has forgotten that she has removed a picture and lost a bill, which Bella knows she has not. His insistence is taking its toll, combined with his flirtations and the fact that every night he leaves the house and she notices that strangely the gaslight dims, then brightens when he returns. There are also the footsteps she hears in the locked and unused top storey of the house.
Overcome by strain and beginning to believe that she, like her mother, is indeed going mad, Bella (Pippa Higgins) has a visitor. Rough, a policeman, has his own agenda for coming to the house and knows Manningham's secret, but also wants to convince Bella of her sanity. I won't spoil the play for those who haven't seen it, but the tension builds excitingly to the final climax.
That excellent actor Keith Phillips, as the bumbling, though effective, seeker after truth Rough, was an entertaining contrast to the sophisticated couple. However, on the first night, there were several hesitations in his dialogue which slowed down the flow. Hopefully, these were ironed out as the run continued.
Pippa Higgins elegantly captured the vacillating moods of Bella, bringing her to vivid life as a likeable woman with whom the audience could empathise. Stephen Bennett was totally believable in the role of the evil husband, investing the exchanges between husband and wife with dramatic impact throughout and ensuring that the audience hated him!
Theirs were faultless performances in what was an enjoyably disturbing thriller of an evening.
© 2016 Newbury Weekly News
Bella Manningham - Pippa Higgins
Jack Manningham - Stephen Bennett
Elizabeth - Kathleen Ray
Nancy - Jenni Collins
Rough- Keith Phillips