Review: Newport Playgoers Society: Gaslight, Dolman Theatre, Newport

Andy Howells reviews the second play of Newport Playgoers Society’s 2022-23 season, Patrick Hamilton’s Gaslight.

Harrowing, challenging and utterly compelling, Patrick Hamilton’s Victorian Drama Gaslight flickers into life on to the Dolman Theatre stage this week.

Performed by Newport Playgoers Society and directed by Malcolm Davies, this dark tale of a Victorian marriage based on deceit and trickery, as a husband seemingly drives his wife insane has many trigger points. While resonating with those of us who have experienced or witnessed domestic abuse first hand, it is also a play that challenges us to address it.

Newport Playgoers Society’s Cathryn Rose & Ashley Pearce in rehearsal for Gaslight at Newport’s Dolman Theatre. Photo: Paul Johnson/Pixels in Time

Cathryn Rose’s portrayal of the fragile but brave, Bella Manningham, who feels she is losing the grip of her sanity when simple household objects begin to disappear, is as brilliant and real as it is heart-breaking. This is a result of the coercive and brutish manipulation of her character (or the term as it has now been adopted in the English language as Gaslighting) from the hands of her husband Jack, played effectively by Ashley Pearce.

Adding to Bella’s concerns is also an impudent chambermaid in the shape of Holly Dawe’s Nancy. Nancy first appears to be a side role, but develops with great significance as the play progresses, enabling Miss Dawe to give a strong performance in the second act.

As the disintegration of Bella’s sanity kicks in, it is a relief when some sympathetic characters step on to the stage. These take the form of sympathetic house-servant Elizabeth, played brilliantly by Lorna Pearson and Christopher Bissex-Williams reassuring portrayal of the dependable Inspector Rough, who seems to know a lot more about Jack Manningham’s history than Bella.

Newport Playgoers Society’s Ashley Pearce & Holly Dawe in rehearsal for Gaslight at Newport’s Dolman Theatre. Photo: Paul Johnson/Pixels in Time

Gaslight also displays much in the way of tension and atmosphere from its dark Victorian living room with flickering and dimming Gas lamps above a fireplace, to carefully selected Victorian outfits and hairstyles, neatly rounded off by the appearance of two Victorian Policemen (Stuart Fouweather & Ryan Hiller) at the plays climax.

Its difficult not to feel moved by such a production as Gaslight. Kudos are worthy for the cast and creatives for, what is undoubtedly, one of the most powerful Newport Playgoers Society productions I have had the pleasure of reviewing to date.

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