Gaslight

Date 24th February 2024
Society Todmorden Amateur Operatic & Dramatic Society TAODS
Venue The Todmorden Hippodrome Theatre
Type of Production Play
Director Iain Mackness
Written By Patrick Hamilton

Report

Author: Dawn-Marie Woodcock

Todmorden Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society began their 2024 season with a production of ‘Gaslight’. Originally a 1938 period drama, written by Patrick Hamilton, it is the sinister tale of one man’s attempt to drive his wife to insanity by manipulating and mentally torturing her. This was play that focused on one person’s ability to wilfully ruin the lives of others.

Director, Iain Mackness, created some truly astounding moments, the shock of seeing how badly a husband can physically and mentally abuse not only his wife but also his servants had the audience riveted. Iain had obviously worked hard with his cast, resulting in some deliberately awkward to watch and thought-provoking scenes. All set in one room with no- where to escape to the audience were given no respite, they were as trapped as the actors. Iain achieved his aim of creating a female lead with a little more substance than in the original, we did not see a weeping, week willed Bella, but a woman questioning her own grip on reality still attempting to fight her way back.

The main protagonist was Bella Manningham, played by Hannah Butler. As the play opened, we saw a woman trying hard to please her husband, grateful for any scrap of kindness he might show her. Believing herself to be mentally ill, perpetuated by things going missing and an increasingly violent husband, Bella was a nervous wreck. Hannah played this character well, her downcast eyes, wringing of hands and sad demeanour showed us a woman on the edge. The audience had true empathy for her character, rooting for her until the end. Hannah gave a very convincing performance as the victim, terrified as she hears footsteps in the house and the gaslights over the mantle dim, blaming herself for her state, believing the lies being fed to her. Hannah portrayed many emotions throughout the show, from vulnerable and small to triumphant and strong when she learns the truth and finally faces up to her husband. I thought it was a compelling performance from Hannah.

Richard Holley played the abusive husband Jack Manningham. I liked Richard’s characterisation. At first appearing kind and caring, then flipping in an instant to violent, where his whole being changed, and he exuded malice. Belittling his wife at every turn, turning on the charm for the maid, weaving his web of lies to achieve his own goals, this was a multifaceted character which Richard executed to perfection.

Peter Appleby played Detective Rough. A jocular fellow intent on proving that Bella is not mentally unstable and that her husband is a murderer and thief. Peter had a convincing cockney accent which helped solidify his character. This role was akin to a narrator, the detective telling the tale of Jacks life before he married Bella. A dialogue heavy role which Peter delivered with levity. He was the breath of fresh air in this atmospheric drama, proving his theory, that Jack is causing the gaslights to dim whilst searching for missing jewels after murdering the previous occupant of the house, thus freeing Bella from her hell. Peter gave a strong confident performance.

Bronte Hobson played the maid with loose morals, Nancy. Constantly undermining her mistress, flirting outrageously with her master, Bronte played a fabulous part. Her accent and mannerisms were perfect for her character.

The housekeeper, Elizabeth, was played by Madeleine Cullinane. I thought this performance excellent. The way she looked at Bella with sympathy, the nervousness when her master got too close, all telling signs that she knew of the abuse but was powerless herself to act. Madeleine gave an insightful performance.

Gina Perry operated the bell that rang when pulled in the parlour and appeared briefly as the Policeman, her bell rings timed perfectly with the action on stage.

This was very much a tight collaboration between all backstage departments. The one room set created by James Claxton and his crew looked just like a Victorian parlour room, crammed with ornaments and pictures, a small table, a desk, an armchair and chaise lounge to name a few. Visually striking, with no scene changes, stage and props worked hard to recreate an authentic look. Lighting, designed by Ged McPhail, assisted by Leila Badrick-Clarke, created atmosphere. The gaslights were a focal point, fixed above the mantelpiece and used frequently by the cast. As they were lit and dimmed by hand, the stage lights mirrored the effect, creating an ambience within the room. The lights dimmed whenever Bella heard footsteps above her, the timing of the lighting was perfect. Sound, operated by Ged McPhail, was clear, no microphone dropouts or feedback, when Jack Manningham raised his voice, it was loud and aggressive but not overpowering for the audience.

Costumes created by Madeleine Cullinane and the wardrobe team, Jo Howard and Jean Clarke looked exquisite. Bella’s Victorian beautifully embellished dress subtly caught the lights as she moved. The difference between the two male characters, a gentleman, and a police officer, apparent in their style of dress. The attention to detail was superb.

I thoroughly enjoyed this production. The cast and crew had worked hard to create an evocative show.  The thunderous applause given by the audience as the curtain fell was testament to how good it was. I would like to thank TAODS for inviting me to their lovely theatre. A special thank you to David Winslow for accompanying me all evening and making me feel welcome. I look forward to your next production.