Review: Gaslight at the Progress Theatre

Once again a Reading theatre gives its audience something to cheer about. This time it’s Progress Theatre who, inits 68th season, give us Gaslight, a chilling tale with Jack Manningham (played by Geoff Dallimore) one of the most evil characters I’ve seen in a play or film recently.

The play is set in the drawing room of a well to do 1890s household with the action taking place over the course of one evening.

It starts with a conversation between Bella Manningham (played by Nicola Howe) and her husband Jack (Dallimore). Right from the start we get a picture of Jack’s domineering and abusive relationship with Bella.

Bella thinks she is losing her mind following in the steps of her mother who was committed to the insane asylum at the same age as she is now.

It would have been easy for Howe to go over the top with this character as she spends a lot of time crying and pleading but Howe has Bella pitch perfect, always on edge but somehow just managing to keep control.

Jack Manningham is manipulative, malicious, conniving and a practiced liar. Dallimore plays this role with great restraint. It is in the small gestures, such as constantly rearranging objects, that we see his true, unhinged, character writ large on the stage.

Into this scary and oppressive atmosphere arrives Inspector Rough. A breath of fresh air and sanity, he is played with humour and humanity by Martin Walker, whose recent work with Progress has been in Handbagged, Lady Windermere’s Fan and Arsenic and Old Lace.

Written in 1938 by Patrick Hamilton the original production ran in the West End for six months and for three years on Broadway with Vincent Price as Jack Manningham. The stage play had such an effect on the population in 1938 that the term ‘gaslighting’ joined the English vocabulary.

Gaslight is a form of emotional abuse that causes the victim to question their own feelings, instincts and sanity which in turn gives the abusive partner power over them.

Director Laura Mills said of Gaslight: “Every rehearsal revealed another layer of the relationships and power struggles which form this thrilling drama.

“What was most revealing to me was how relevant the themes of abuse and stigmas of mental health issues remain today. Although we have come a long way in 100 years there is still a long way to go.”

Regular theatregoers will have seen Dallimore in roles as diverse as Alan in God of Carnage, Prospero in Return to the Forbidden Planet as well as directing Little Shop of Horrors. Nicola Howe joined Progress Theatre in 2012 and has played Elvira in Blithe Spirit (2013) and Alison in Trainspotting (2014).

The audience is taken on a roller coaster ride of emotions as we watch the relationship between husband and wife unfold and we realise the truth of Bella’s situation. Progress Theatre have produced a fantastic version of a classic, much-loved story.

Gaslight was the perfect scary drama for a dark evening. Go and see it, if you dare.

Gaslight was peformed at The Progress Theatre from February 23-28.

Progress Theatre, The Mount, Christchurch Road, Reading, RG1 5HL

Telephone 0118 384 2195