Gaslight (v): to manipulate someone by psychological means into doubting their own sanity. And thus serves the premise for the excellently-written mystery thriller of the same name, which is set to arrive at Brighton’s Theatre Royal from Mon 6 – Sat 11 Feb. Written by one of the 20th century’s most renowned British writers, Patrick Hamilton, this play is set in gloomy Victorian London. A superb mystery thriller, it’s packed full of suspense, its cast headed by the highly acclaimed actress Kara Tointon for a tense yet satisfying evening of great British theatre.
The latest reproduction of the classic play, which originally came to stage in 1938, Gaslight follows the thrilling tale of Bella (Tointon) and her husband Jack Manningham (Rupert Young, of Merlin fame). While Jack is out each evening his wife Bella is home alone, where strange things start to happen that Bella can’t explain: the disappearance of familiar objects, the mysterious footsteps overhead, the ghostly flickering of a living room gaslight. As Bella begins to doubt her sanity, so does Jack – it’s only the surprise arrival of a retired police detective (Keith Allen) that leads to a shocking discovery. As many aspiring actors know, the dream is to be able to pick your own parts as they come flying through your letterbox, but was that what initially attracted Tointon to the part of troubled Bella? “I really wanted something a little bit gritty and serious and when I read the script, I was hooked. It’s a really great female-led play, especially of its time, I think that’s quite rare, really – I just thought this is perfect.”
It’s a role that the actress can relate to in terms of life experience, though its sinister narrative path keeps it interesting. “It’s really cleverly written in that this is about a young woman in her 30s who’s in a marriage, slowly being manipulated and thinking she’s going crazy.” Tointon explains that gaslighting in some way may appear in many different modern relationships when partners don’t realise they’re being manipulated. She feels that the audience will find the play relatable because the theme is still relevant. Although this is an undoubtedly dark piece, Tointon suggests there are lighter moments to be enjoyed in the show.
Already a renowned stage actress, the role is far from Tointon’s debut, with the actress having already received universal acclaim for her West End stage roles, including Eliza Doolittle in Pygmalion and parts in the West End revivals of Ayckbourn’s Absent Friends and Relatively Speaking. She also starred in BBC’s 2013 series of Strictly Come Dancing, and became known most recently in December 2015 for portraying Maria for the ITV production of The Sound of Music Live.
With the Gaslight tour lasting eight unrelenting weeks from January, you’d expect the show to be stressful, however Tointon expressed this is an ideal amount of time – and of course, there are some perks along the way. “I just think touring is so interesting, different towns bring a different atmosphere to the play and I’m eager to get back to live theatre.” Although Tointon has previously visited Brighton for the Fringe Festival, she has never performed in the city before and embraces the challenge that different theatres present – with a particular fondness for the Theatre Royal.
Following the eight-week tour, there is the possibility that Gaslight will transfer to the West End, but what of future plans for Tointon? With the actress having just finished filming an eight part drama series (The Halcyon, which airs on ITV from Mon 2 Jan) in which she plays a jazz singer, it’s certainly been a busy time for Tointon – something the actress takes in her stride.
This new spine-tingling production of Gaslight will be showing at the Theatre Royal from Mon 6 – Sat 11 Feb