Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Monday 30th September, 2019
This new production of Patrick Hamilton’s classic thriller impresses from the start with an imposing set designed by William Dudley. The perspective is so forced the ceiling looms large over proceedings and the sense of claustrophobia is almost palpable. The box set is augmented by judicious use of gauzes so we can see who is eavesdropping outside the room or going up and down the staircases, and there are video projections, also by Dudley, that give us a view into the uppermost room and, more importantly, the mindset of our heroine, Bella.
Written in 1939, the play has given its name to a form of systematic psychological abuse, and Hamilton gives us a textbook example here as Jack Manningham uses every trick in the book to send his wife around the twist. From the off, Bella (Charlotte Emmerson) is tightly wound and Jack plays her like a fiddle. James Wiley is perfectly villainous as the domineering, manipulative husband, while Emmerson, increasingly unhinged, quickly gains our sympathy and keeps it.
There is strong supporting character work from Mary Chater as Elizabeth, and Georgia Clarke-Day as Nancy, two maids of the household, contrasting nicely with each other; but the piece centres around a star turn from the mighty Martin Shaw as Rough, a detective with an Oirish accent. Shaw’s Rough is humorous and yet authoritative, a charmer who takes control – a Professional, if you will!
Mic Pool’s sound design adds eeriness and the all-important lighting, by Chris Davey, creates a suitably murky atmosphere for the dastardly goings-on. Director Lucy Bailey wrings suspense out of moments of silence, and the action builds to a rather lurid climax in which we see the villain’s ultimate fate.
Even if you’ve seen the play the before, this high-quality production shows there is still plenty of mileage in the material. Gripping, amusing and thrilling, Gaslight deserves a glowing review!
Nice bit of Rough: Martin Shaw
Leave a comment | tags: Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Charlotte Emmerson, Chris Davey, Gaslight, Georgia Clarke-Day, James Wiley, Lucy Bailey, Martin Shaw, Mary Chater, Mic Pool, Patrick Hamilton, review, William Dudley | posted in Review, Theatre Review
DIAL M FOR MURDER
The REP, Birmingham, Tuesday 13th May, 2014
Frederick Knott’s taut 1950s thriller is given an excellent revival in Lucy Bailey’s production, currently playing at the REP. It is very much a period piece and Bailey does well to preserve the 1950s feel while giving her production a fresh contemporary-retro atmosphere. This is due in no small part to Mike Britton’s glamorous red set with its stylish 50s furniture and translucent walls and curtains. There are two revolves: on one stands the furniture; from the other, a curtain hangs. Both revolve slowly, almost imperceptibly, at various times during the action – it’s like seeing the inner workings of a machine, the cogs of Knott’s plot at work, as the villain sets his wicked plan in motion and the playwright winds up the tension.
Daniel Betts is suitably urbane and smarmy as the villainous, betrayed husband Tony Wendice, who enlists old school acquaintance and bit of a wrong ‘un, Captain Lesgate (a very good Robert Perkins) to bump off his cheating wife. The plan hinges upon a telephone call at the crucial moment – hence the title – and when the violence takes place, it is all the more shocking for its stylisation. Fight direction by Philip d’Orleans is complemented by unsettling contributions from lighting designer Chris Davey and sound design by Mic Pool.
Even though I have seen this play staged before, the new lease of life given to it by this production, meant I was still enthralled and thrilled. Bailey doesn’t let the stylish presentation get in the way of Knott’s superbly crafted script.
Kelly Hotten is appealing as intended victim Mrs Wendice, looking every inch the 50s starlet under Chris Davey’s cinematic lighting. Philip Cairns is her lover Max, making it easy to see why Mrs Wendice prefers him to her husband. Christopher Timothy tops off this tight ensemble as determined Inspector Hubbard who worries away at every detail of the case like a dog with a bone, until the truth is brought to light.
Wordy passages of exposition are counterbalanced with wordless moments of action – Knott knew exactly what he was doing and this production clearly demonstrates why this play is a masterpiece of the genre.
Kelly Hutton is asked about her PPI (Photo: Manuel Harlan)
Leave a comment | tags: Chris Davey, Christopher Timothy, Daniel Betts, Dial M For Murder, Frederick Knott, Kelly Hotten, Lucy Bailey, Mic Pool, Mike Britton, Philip Cairns, Philip d'Orleans, review, Robert Perkins, The REP Birmingham, theatre review | posted in Theatre Review