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Review of Patrick Hamilton's Gaslight (Preview) at Royal & Derngate (Royal), Northampton

It is a rule not to review previews of performances and most recently this has hit the headlines more with naughty media antics of Benedict Cumberbatch's opening night of Hamlet. This weekend I was present to see two previews of Made In Northampton's latest offering, Gaslight. I don't get to see the finished product for a fortnight and by then it will be near the end of its run, so it leaves me in a tricky situation, to review now or wait until its almost over. It is however a simple answer, review now, because although they were were previews, they were both performances of an excellent quality in any case (with just a hint of differences at work between shows) that I have no particular need to criticize.

Gaslight is a 1938 play written by Patrick Hamilton and tells the tale of an evening in the life of Jack and Bella Manningham at home in 1880. Telling a tale of part psychological thriller, part mystery and more importantly what amounts to domestic violence, it is a cleverly crafted play and director Laura Bailey has created on the intimate Royal stage a period piece of atmospheric perfection.

Working with Chris Davey's perfect "gaslight" environment lighting and the superbly clever, all smart and clever angles set from William Dudley, The scene is indeed set long before we fall into the tale that the five main strong cast provides. Indeed Mic Pool on sound design has his own say with the stunningly perfect distant call of the muffin man to open the play. That very sound truly sounds as if it is rising from the streets below. The scene is most truly set before a line of dialogue is spoken like no other Made In Northampton play I have seen.

Bella is played by Tara Fitzgerald, a face no doubt familiar to many from television and film and on stage she is no less captivating. Playing the role with the perfect delicate balance of fragility and then joy required against the totally monstrous Jack. Playing him is Jonathan Firth and this is a wonderfully creepy performance with switches in manner perfectly controlled. Never knowing from one moment which Jack you are going to get leaves both his wife and the audience on edge. He also looks the part as a Victorian chap as well.

Perhaps the star for me though and often the case is the character who occasional brings light relief to an often dark play. Paul Hunter (director of MIN's Every Last Trick) is, simple fact, perfection in his role as the retired detective Rough, strutting poses about the stage like some gentlemanly Madonna (I hope they survive transition from the previews as they were toned down in the second preview I saw). He is without doubt a hit with the audience. Not to say that his role is all comedy value as he brings many tough and dramatic moments to the stage not least the clever "stirring" moment (excellent work once again from sound).

The final two actors are also of exceptional quality, with the very London town Nancy played deliciously by Alexandra Guelff. Manipulative, often a little cold but constantly alluring, it is indeed a striking achievement. Veronica Roberts as Elizabeth is wonderfully wholesome and friendly. Her moments silently observing the dressing room are quite delightful.

The only "incidents" of note during the previews, particularly the second one, were the "handcuffs and rope" and "coat and tray", the latter literally just a live moment, but dealt with so perfectly by Hunter that I was almost grateful they had happened, just for those ad libbed moments. I suspect that the cuffs and rope part will get a bit of work out of the previews though, as it was slightly awkward both nights.

The final mention must go to Karl Dixon for the video programming work. What might feel at first to be a little out of place in the play set in Victorian London, quickly becomes just right for it. Offering a dynamic and latterly disturbing bit of imaginary (and an interesting link back to the previous Made In Northampton).

So on a clever set with smart uses of see through backdrops, Bailey has crafted a wonderful piece of art. Moments like the startling appearance of the murderous apparition and the silently observing Rough, offer great ideas and make this a play you must guarantee to catch as soon as you can. On the back of the theatres award win, the Made In Northampton range has perhaps created one of its best with this gem of a piece.

««««½
A PREVIEW REVIEW


Performance reviewed PREVIEWS: Friday 16th/Saturday 17th October, 2015 at the Royal & Derngate (Royal), Northampton.


Gaslight runs at the Royal & Derngate until Saturday 7th November, 2015.
Details here: http://www.royalandderngate.co.uk/whatson/2015-2016/Royal/Gaslight

For further details visit the Royal & Derngate website at http://www.royalandderngate.co.uk/
Image copyright: Royal & Derngate

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