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Mortimer Dramatic Society - Gaslight

1st to 2nd June and 8th to 9th June 2018

Review from Newbury Theatre.

Patrick Hamilton’s psychological thriller gave rise to the term gaslighting, meaning “to cause someone to doubt their sanity through the use of psychological manipulation”.

The play is set in 1880 in the home of the middle-class Manninghams and as the curtains open we see their sitting room. This is a ‘wow’ moment – the set is magnificent. The programme doesn’t credit a Set Designer (I suspect John Bull), but it’s beautifully detailed (picture rail and dado rail), decorated and furnished and looks just right. MDS always produce impressive sets, but this was something special.

Jack Manningham dominates his wife Bella and is wearing her down, making her think she’s going mad. The unexpected arrival of a detective, Inspector Rough, sheds a different light on things and as the play progresses the interactions of the three main characters leads us to a satisfactory conclusion.

Sarah Roper, as Bella Manningham, is excellent as she deals with her own fears as well as being pulled in different directions by Jack and Rough. This was a thoroughly believable performance, with her elation over the theatre trip turning to despair and doubt, all done without overplaying the emotions and helped by her expressive face.

Strong performances too from the two maids: Elizabeth (Kerry Thomas), sympathetic and loyal, and the cockney Nancy (Helen Sharpe), cheeky and flirty.

Iain Vernon Wilson played Jack, the superior and sinister paterfamilias, and James Burton Stewart was confident as Rough.

But… the old MDS bugbear: prompts and fluffed lines. There were literally dozens of them on the first Saturday – naming no names, but you know who you are. This destroys the pace and is extremely unsettling for the audience (and the cast!). Sorry, MDS, but it isn’t good enough. You’ve got good actors but they must know their lines.

Director Lawrence Picking made good use of the set, although Rough seemed to wander around randomly at times.

A great set complemented with some splendid costumes, a good play and good acting, but too many prompts.