This review was originally written for the Reviews Hub
Writer: Patrick Hamilton
Director: Sarah Punshon
The autumn nights are drawing in and this is certainly reflected in the New Vic’s production of Gaslight. Set in Victorian London this play is full of mystery and tension that will leave you on the edge of your seats in suspense and all that’s before the interval.
Gaslight tells the story surrounding a traditional Victorian household that is thrown into turmoil when a visitor appears one night. But instead of wanting to speak to the man of the household, he wants to speak to his wife. But is this man real? Or is he just a vision in the head of a woman going mad?
Michael Holt’s set cleverly transforms the stage into a claustrophobic space, one that engages the audience to live and breathe within its confines. This play uses the elements of theatre in the round to its full potential; you would almost think it was written especially for the space. By using a suspended roof, Holt encapsulates the feeling of being trapped, including, some very clever use of gas pipes both underneath and on top of the set. Not one item looked out of place in this period setting.
Sarah Punshon’s directing includes a balanced undercurrent of melodramatic acting, while also not taking away the realism of this piece. Using expression and character, the actors take hold of their well-written characters and bring reality to them, creating a believable and enticing period play.
Alix Dunmore’s portrayal of Bella, uses well-balanced emotions of a woman of loyalty, but also one of wanting freedom from her husband. This is in contradiction to Brendan Hughes’s portrayal of a Victorian husband who certainly holds to Victorian traditions of a wife being his possession. Hughes’s almost unpredictable nature is shown excellently through his range of well-controlled vocal skills which adds to the tension throughout this piece, not knowing what he is going to do next.
The tension is added to by some well-crafted sound by Sound Designer James Earls-Davis. Davis metaphorically turns gas leaking into sound and skilfully intertwines it into the plot. Davis also encapsulates a ticking clock almost like a ticking time bomb throughout the production, again adding to this already tensioned filled play.
But that’s not to say this production is all dark and gloomy. John Cording’s character of Ex-Detective Rough brings some light laughter to the dark undertone of this production using well-scripted jokes and humour, along with his own well thought out actions and timings. Cording creates a flicker of light into some of the darkest moments in the play, while at the same time not releasing the overall tension, almost like the gas lamps themselves.
All the elements of this production gelled together to create a well-crafted production that uses all elements of theatre to its best. Whether it’s the portrayal of the well-rounded characters or it’s to its metaphorical yet real-life set. The tension in this piece will have you glued to your seat right to the very end, while not forgetting the humour in this production will have you laughing in-between. Combining comedy and drama is never an easy balance to get right, but the New Vic has done it and done it well, creating a thoroughly enjoyable night out.
Photo: Andrew Billington | Runs Until 5 October 2013