Tag Archives: Howard Hudson

Gaslight
reviewed Cambridge Arts Theatre on 13 February

Torture is a chameleon. We think of it as mainly physical, but it can also be psychological, or these two facets can combine. Patrick Hamilton’s Gaslight is what one would now define as a psychological thriller, with its story of three people all obsessed, though in very different ways.

The central character is young wife Bella Manningham (Kara Tointon), increasingly aware that her mother (who died lunatic in an asylum) may have left her a poisonous legacy. Her apparently concerned husband of seven years Jack (Rupert Young) has his own agenda, which may include his pert parlourmaid Nancy (Charlotte Blackledge).

Retired police sergeant Rough (Keith Allen) sees connexions to a horrific but unsolved murder several decades ago. He sees a chance to bring the case which still haunts him to its proper conclusion, but for that he needs a reliable ally.

Many of us will have seen this 1938 drama before, whether on stage (it was a repertory theatre favourite) or in one of its screen adaptations. The 2017 director has to allow his audience the chance to preen itself of seeing what is coming while maintaining the suspense and conveying theatrical conviction. In this Anthony Banks succeeds splendidly.

He’s assisted by David Woodhead’s box-set, cleverly lit by Howard Hudson, and by Ben and Max Ringham’s sound design, an eerie combination of the natural and the suggestively sinister. All the cast give committed performances with a many-nuanced and vocally inflected one by Tointon just having the edge on Allen’s apparently bluff policeman.

Blackledge’s Nancy is a study of a girl on the make, balanced by Helen Anderson’s portrait of the housekeeper Elizabeth. I think I would have liked Young to be just a trifle more the charming – as well as apparently concerned – husband in his early scenes with Tointon; it’s one nudge in the audience’s ribs too many.

If you’ve never sen Gaslight or have dismissed it as an old warhorse well passed it prime, then go to see this staging. It achieves balance – and that’s much rarer in the theatre these days than one might imagine.

Four and a half star rating

Gaslight continues at the Arts Theatre, Cambridge until 18 February with matinées on 15 and 18 February. The national tour continues until 18 March.

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Partners in Crime

(reviewed at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch on 31 October)

The autumn season of in-house and shared productions at the Queen’s Theatre in Hornchurch ends with a real corker of a show, as its hero Tommy Beresford might have said. It’s a co-production with Eleanor Lloyd in association with the Watermill Theatre and is a thoroughly gorgeous piece of stage-craft and ensemble work.

Designer Tom Rogers, choreographer Nancy Kettle, consultant magician John Bulleid, lighting designer Howard Hudson and sound designer Adrienne Quartly must take proper credit. And that’s as well as director John Nicholson and writers Sarah Punshon and Johann Hari, who have made a fine piece of Twenties pastiche from Agatha Christie’s original 1922 story The Secret Adversary.

Those glitzy Hollywood films of the period between the two world wars with their wisecracking sophisticated heroines and dashing heroes are cleverly referenced in the crisp dialogue as demobbed soldier Tommy (Richard Holt) meets former Army nurse and vicar’s daughter Prudence Cowley, known as Tuppence (Naomi Sheldon), and renews their pre-war friendship.

Both are financially broke and not helped by the economic depression which will culminate in the 1926 General Strike. Revolutions in Europe, especially the Bolshevik one in Russia, led to a degree of paranoia in countries otherwise stable through military victory in 1918 – the 19th century perceived threat of anarchists lurking with bombs and fell intents was fast developing into a Reds under the bed syndrome.

This is the background as Tommy and Tuppence find themselves in a spy drama of global importance. What they, their helpers and their opponents say is what most people of this social class would have thought and said at the time – no false anachronisms here. The night-club setting with its ruched curtain which reveals a rather sinister grey-walled structure pierced by more doors than in the average French farce is a delight.

Musical director Inga Davis-Rutter sets the mood at the keyboard with the remaining members of the multi-rôle cast – Rebecca Bainbridge, Isla Carter, Philip Battley, Nigel Lister and Morgan Philpott – joining her to provide the music for the song and dance scenes. Bainbridge and Carter make the most of their contrasted female characters and come close to rivalling Sheldon in the audience’s affections.

I won’t spoil your pleasure by unmasking the villain before Tuppence and Tommy do; suffice it to say that you can choose between Lister’s Sir James, Philpott’s Mr Whittington and Battley’s Julius – and you’ll probably choose wrong. First night applause can be misleading, even artificial, but this was an audience which was enjoying itself and delighted to show its appreciation.

Partners in Crime runs at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch until 19 November with matinées on 3 and 12 November.

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Night Must Fall

(reviewed at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswih on 17 October)

Most people, if they’re honest, admit to loving a good murder mystery. But what about the perpretator? There reactions are much more mixed. Do we simply shudder at the crime itself and the (often sordid and downright mercenary) motives behind it – or do we try to get into the murderer’s skull, analyse what drove him (or her) to the deed or even feel a fellow feeling. There but by the grace of God…

Emlyn Williams’ classic exploration of the dual personality of a murderer Night Must Fall takes us on just such a journey. We know that Dan (Will Featherstone) has killed at least once before he even sets foot on the stage. We sspect who will be his next target – the irasible wealthy widow Mrs Bramson (Gwen Taylor), tyrannising over her dependent niece Olivia (Niamh McGrady), her staff and most other regular visitors.

What we learn only gradually is how Dan’s chameleon-like personality dazzles even the most sceptical of the people with whom he comes into contact. From being a teenage bell-hop at a nearby hotel, he metamorphoses before our eyes into an all-purpose handyman and then an intimate of Mrs Bramson’s home in a remote Essex village, which is surrounded by forest. it’s a measure of the strength of Featherstone’s portrait that we can follow why he attracts at the same time as why he repels.

You need equally forceful performances to keep the balance. Dan’s comes-and-goes Welsh inflection is cut across by Taylor’s thoroughly npleasant if well-spoken grande dame. McGrady gives us Olivia’s unhappiness as well as the touch of steel which makes her refuse Hubert (Alasdair Buchan)’s sincere proposal of marriage. You can also see why she is attracted to Dan, perhaps sensing that he could be the missing part of her own torn personality.

Buchan has in many ways the most difficult part in the play; a well-meaning bumbler incapable of inspiring affection either in Olivia or us, that eavesdropping fourth-wall of the bungalow. Darach O’Malley’s Inspector Belsize has the right sort of seen-it-all-before authority. Director Luke Sheppard keeps the action fast-moving, sometime at the expense of vocal clarity on the part of the smaller roles. David Woodhead’s set is correctly realistic and in period, with costumes of the mid-1930s to match.

There’s a touch of the filmic about Howard Hudson’s lighting plots; the same is true of Harry Black’s soundscape whch heightens the tension at key moments with great subtlety. Williams was of course a performer as well as a writer, and he wrote himself a role which obviously played to his strengths. Given a revival such as this by Original Theatre, the Salisbury Playhouse and Eatbourne Theatres, you can enjoy the sheer theatrical craftsmanship of it all.

Night Must Fall runs at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich until 22 October with matinées on 19 and 22 October. It can also be seen at the Palace Theatre, Westcliff between 31 October and 5 November.

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