Gaslight cast are luminescent at Cambridge Arts Theatre

The cast of 'Gaslight'.

The cast of 'Gaslight'. - Credit: Archant

Gaslight, written in 1938 but set in the Victorian era, about a woman whose husband is trying to drive her mad, used to be a staple of repertory companies because it is such a gem.

It disappeared when provincial theatres went dark and there was no more rep.

writer, Patrick Hamilton, created arch characters which must be joy to act and are certainly a treat to see – and the cast for this production at Cambridge Arts Theatre really savour them and make them real.

Kara Tointon as the oppressed wife, Bella Manningham entirely captures the demeanour and voice of an upper middle class woman in the 1930s.

We see the suppressed panic beneath the delicate restraint. If anyone lived a life of quiet desperation it was women at a time when their happiness or wretchedness depended entirely on the whim of a man.

Tointon’s tortured Bella is strong and fragile at the same time, driven as one would be to start doubting herself but smart enough to notice that when the gas light dims, it means a light has been lit somewhere else in the house and she knows that her husband (a sinisterly charming Rupert Young) has returned home to pace the attic.

This play could so easily be just pure melodrama – and nothing wrong with that, it’s glorious theatrical history. But it’s brought back to life and made amusing by the humanity of Tointon’s Bella and the deft performance of Keith Allen as the mysterious police officer who knows so much more about her husband than she does.

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His performance is a relaxed, understated, treat by a master of theatre. He makes it look so easy.

There is strong support too from Helen Anderson and Charlotte Blackledge as the maids Elizabeth and Nancy.

Anderson’s wise Elizabeth puts diplomacy into her pauses, Nancy causes you to gasp when she plays with fire with her cheek. They are both real people who create a real household

The ensemble cast creates a wonderful tension, an atmosphere of fear. This memorable production with a stupendous full drawing room set and creepy sound effects is haunting and delightful.