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MATTHEW NEEDHAM - 0148

Gaslight

Gaslight, written in 1938 by Patrick Hamilton, was shown at the Salisbury Playhouse from
Thursday 6
th
February until Saturday 1
st
March 2014. Sexeys School drama department
organised the theatre trip to Salisbury to take place on Wednesday 12
th
February, before I
arrived at the playhouse I have to admit my expectations werent very high. Earlier that
week I had done some research into the play and found the synopsis. The play, I thought
would be one that had little background music and a Shakespearean theme, But to my
pleasant surprise it was the opposite.
The play is a melodrama set in the 19
th
century based on a murder, when Mr Manningham
and his wife Bella moved to South London, Mr Manninghams belongings kept on
mysteriously going missing, which Mr Manningham blames on Bella. When Mr Manningham
goes out of an evening strange things seem to happen in the Manningham household, the
gaslights dim and eerie noises are heard from the upstairs bedroom, Bella thinks she is going
insane. But just before her conscience finally pushes her to insanity a stage hallucinogenic
figure comes from the darkness to save her from the lies that she has been led to believe. In
the play Hamilton conveys Manningham as being an abusive, controlling and vulgar, this is
evident when Manningham shouts I have been too lenient with you, I mean to alter my
tactics this shows that he is dominant in the relationship and insults her frequently to show
that she is inferior to him.
The piece was presented very much how it was intended in the script, done with very good
entrances and exits, well performed dialogue and staging. The inspectors exit was the one
that baffled me the most, when he exited through a wardrobe and wasnt seen leaving the
stage. It has been made apparent to me now that he may have used a trap door beneath
the stage to exit or that he slipped away off stage when our attention was somewhere else.
The staging for this play was one that intrigued me a lot, from the seemingly endless spiral
staircase to the slanted Victorian ceiling the set was by far one of the best I have seen in a
play. Set in an old rustic looking house, the Manningham household is one that has a ghoul
like effect. The slanted ceiling
of the set gives an idea that
the house is old and one of
the Victorian era. It also
shows that there
could be something upstairs
(which we find out later in
the story is what drives Bella
mad.) The wallpaper is ripped
on the walls and ceilings to
give the feeling that the
house needs to be redecorated and was left in a state by the previous owner. The floor of
the set was made out of hard wood panelling and gave a pleasant sound when the actors
Spiral Staircase
Slanted Ceiling
Ripped Wallpaper
Hardwood Floor
Hollow
Mirror
Chaise
Longue
MATTHEW NEEDHAM - 0148
walked. The thing that I like the most was that every item of the set was itemised and used
in some way, from the hollow mirror to the coat and hat rack that was suspended from the
ceiling that looked like a hanged victim and also acted as a constant reminder of death and
madness in the house. I like how the chaise longue, placed down stage centre left, was used
to create an upper class feel to the set. The staging affected me on a level I had never
experienced whilst watching a play before, a deep sense of darkness loomed on stage at all
time, even during the 20 minute interval I still was watching the stage to see a glimpse of
movement that I knew wouldnt be there. The use of dull colours on set meant that I got a
constant reminder of mystery and uneasiness throughout the play. The actors used the
space provided very well and never once hesitated to use bits of the stage which other
actors wouldnt dream of using. I think that Gemma Lawrence, Nancy, particularly used the
space to her advantage, especially when she strolled on set in Act Two, she used the space
to create the sense that she owned the place.
The use of props was phenomenal from the hollowed out picture frame to the discovery of
the broken roll-top desk, all the props on the set were all utilised in some way. For me the
props that I noticed at the beginning, the whiskey glasses, were for me the props that I least
expected to be used. When the inspector first gives Bella a glass of whiskey I thought to
myself this cant be but to my pleasant