It is rare that a word enters the English language based on a theatrical play.
Grand Opera House, York
Mon Jan 30-Sat Feb 4
But ‘gaslighting’ – defined as a form of emotional abuse, where the abuser manipulates situations repeatedly to trick a victim into distrusting their own memory and perceptions – is one of those terms.
It is derived from Patrick Hamilton’s 1938 play Gaslight, which was adapted for film in 1940 and 1944, and performed on stage many times – sometimes under its American title, Angel Street.
The 2017 stage play features Kara Tointon in the lead role of Bella Manningham; Rupert Young as her abusive and manipulative husband Jack; and Keith Allen as Detective Rough.
Tointon first caught our attention as Dawn Swann in EastEnders, but has since made more of a name for herself in period dramas like Mr Selfridge, Pygmalion and the new ITV production, The Halcyon. Many people still remember her as the winner of Strictly Come Dancing in 2013.
Allen has played many a rogue on TV and film, and Young has appeared in a number of television dramas – most notably as Sir Leon in Merlin.
Gaslight is a psychological thriller, set in Victorian London in 1880.
Bella is very much in love with her husband, Jack. But he teases and taunts her. He is intent on convincing her that she is losing her mind, and destined for the lunatic asylum – where her mother had ended up at a similar age.
He misleads her and confuses her – all, it would appear, with the assistance of the medication he forces her to take.
When the husband leaves the house in the evening, as is his habit, Bella is paid a visit by former Detective Sergeant Rough. Rough is friendly and sympathetic to Bella’s situation – and displays an uncanny knowledge of the comings and goings in the Manningham household.
It transpires that the retired policeman is keen to wrap up a cold case that he has been following for decades. His tenacity has led him to the house, and to Bella.
He offers her some of his own ‘medicine’ to counter that which her husband has been force feeding her. And he reassures her that she is not going mad.
There is a poetic beauty in which the tables are turned in this melodrama – and its conclusion is reached.
The plot is by no mean the most challenging of whodunnits, but the production is well worth seeing. The casting is excellent.
Rupert Young towers over Kara Tointon’s slight and frail-looking figure, emphasising visually how his character is able to dominate her. And Keith Allen’s bewhiskered detective adds many moments of levity to such a dark plot.
The play is driven along by the skills of the lead actors. In particular, Keith Allen, who encompasses the voracious, and sometimes excitable, character of Rough with great aplomb and adds some wonderful comedic moments.
Worthy of note too are the contributions made by Helen Anderson who plays Elizabeth, the housekeeper. The timing of her actions, and often inactions, create small gems of genius in the portrayal of this small, yet important, role.
But it is Kara Tointon who deserves special mention. She plays the part of Bella admirably, moving effortlessly from the frail, bewildered wife – to the curious, strong and – eventually – defiant character, captivating the attention of the appreciative Grand Opera House audience.
As the gaslight dims, Tointon shines.