Royal and Derngate,
Patrick Hamilton’s Gaslight is a brilliant and disturbing exploration of mental domestic cruelty, says PETER FROST
Patrick Hamilton was probably the best known British communist playwright and novelist of his generation. He never denied his Marxist politics and he was always known as a communist playwright although he never officially declared or denied his Communist Party membership.
In 1948 two of his earlier plays were made into successful films. The Rope became a Hitchcock classic and Gaslight, starring Ingrid Bergman, was a huge screen hit.
Now the Royal and Derngate has revived Hamilton’s Gaslight as part of their Made in Northampton award-winning series and, as with previous productions, Arthur Miller’s The Hook and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, new life has been breathed into what are sometimes considered well-worn or even dated scripts.
In this new production Hamilton’s creative genius becomes apparent when this vaguely Sherlockian Victorian detective story, in which Tara Fitzgerald (below) masterfully reprises Bergman’s role of Bella, turns into a perceptive and bang-up-to-date analysis of a particularly nasty kind of mental domestic abuse.
So accurate are Hamilton’s psychiatric observations that modern medical science has named this particular abuse in which people are pressurised into believing they are becoming delusional, often by their partners, as Gaslighting.
Hamilton wrote the play in 1938, when many of his comrades had died in the Spanish civil war, storm clouds were gathering over Europe and fascism was raising its ugly head at home and abroad. It would be too easy to contextualise the meaning of the play in the light of those events, which is much more a reflection of Hamilton’s curious personal relationships.
He was married twice, used prostitutes and had affairs with actresses as well as a confused sexuality, reflected in the homosexual themes of many of his novels. Whatever — the play deals brilliantly with abuse issues that, both on the stage and in real life, we are still all too reluctant to confront today. In bringing this classic back to the stage the Royal has done it again.
Runs until November 7, box office: royalandderngate.co.uk
This review first appeared in the Morning Star 28 October 2015