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Review of Gaslight, starring Tara Fitzgerald, Royal & Derngate, Northampton, October 2015.

Review of Gaslight, Royal & Derngate, Northampton. (Press night performance)

 

By Hilary Scott

Tara Fitzgerald as Bella Manningham in Gaslight. Photography by Idil Sukan/Draw HQ

Tara Fitzgerald as Bella Manningham
in Gaslight.
Photography by Idil Sukan/Draw HQ

YOU usually find mention of the set design for a new theatre production much further down in a review, but in Gaslight at Northampton’s Royal Theatre the stage is the first star you lay eyes on.

With the action confined to the classic ‘one-room-in-a-period-setting’, it’s a tough job to be original.

But William Dudley and the Royal’s set-production team have created a stunningly clever Ames Room – one of those that alters your perception of the things within it – which perfectly reflects the theme of the play: manipulation of someone’s mind to make them doubt their own sanity, or Gaslighting.

The use of clever modern video projection, in a 130-year-old theatre, for a play set in stifling the stifling late Victorian age shouldn’t work – yet it does, brilliantly (except for one very ridiculous section near the end which doesn’t, and made us laugh when we should be shocked).

We had no time to leaf through the programme beforehand, which is just as well, because then we had no spoilers or expectations. This is a psychological thriller, which made the entire audience shift uncomfortably in its seats as the stellar cast messed with our minds.

Tara Fitzgerald as Bella Manningham Jonathan Firth as Jack Manningham in Gaslight. Photography by Idil Sukan/Draw HQ

Tara Fitzgerald as Bella Manningham
Jonathan Firth as Jack Manningham in Gaslight.
Photography by Idil Sukan/Draw HQ

Tara Fitzgerald is exquisite as the vulnerable, bullied Bella Manningham, running the gauntlet in her own house between her domineering husband Jack, played menacingly by Jonathan Firth (I was two-thirds through before I recognized him as Colin’s brother), the servants, and her own sanity.

Fitzgerald stars in the globally popular Game of Thrones and I suspect a percentage of the packed audience was there to see her.

Is her encounter with her apparent saviour, the rosy-cheeked Inspector Rough (Paul Hunter), just another example of her mind playing tricks?

No spoilers: You’ll have to go and see for yourselves.

Gaslight, a Made in Northampton production, runs at Royal & Derngate until November 7. Box Office on 01604 624811 or visit www.royalandderngate.co.uk

 

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Lion, Witch and Wardrobe. Intelligent theatre in a sea of predictable panto

Review. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Royal Theatre Northampton.

Firstly, I should declare an interest. My two elder sons are in the ‘junior company’ of the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, running at Northampton’s Royal Theatre until January 9th.

However, as any parent who has had to endure school plays will know, it ain’t automatically good just ‘cos your offspring are in it. (Hand in the rose-tinted specs as you leave).

Adam Baxter as Tumnus and Hayley Ellenbrook as Lucy (pic Robert Day)

But I’m not coming to LWW just as a doting parent. I’ve reviewed productions at Northampton’s theatres for ten years or more. As a local reviewer, you have to be honest, not sycophantic, but can’t be deliberately brutal like those who swan in and out of town for the Nationals.

Thing is, this version of the Lion is actually really good. And I am completely ‘meh’ about all the Narnia stories. They just didn’t do it for me as adventures. I’m almost wishing I could find something wrong with the Royal’s version to show I’m not just bigging up something which has my kids in it.

Director Dani Parr has a track record of making un-patronising, entertaining theatre for children. And although this story, published in 1950 and set in the war years, is far from ‘modern,’ our seven-year-old was gripped throughout.

White Witch (Georgina White) and Edmund (Peter McGovern) (pic Robert Day)

You spend quite a lot of time just gawping at the breadth of skills displayed by the actors. The striking and sickeningly-talented Georgina White, when not camping it up as the evil White Witch, also flits on and off stage to the visible ‘orchestra’ areas to play the saxophone and bassoon. All four adults-playing-kids Peter, Lucy, Edmund and Susan are capable singers and also play instruments (did I mention it had singing in it? My kids didn’t either).

The set, as usual with the Royal, is stunning and clever and still manages to surprise. The wooden panelling is a great idea to show the evacuees’ home. And when the Wardrobe is opened to show the snow-bound Narnia, there’s a blast of cold air emanating from the stage to further stimulate the audience . Costumes too, are inspiring (I found myself envying the white queen’s fur-trimmed coat and wondering if I could get away with wearing it for the school run).

Newcomer Hayley Ellenbrook is endearing and believable as Lucy, a role that could so easily irritate by a less able actor. Peter McGovern’s Edmund is suitably detestable, while Mr And Mrs Beaver (Louise Shuttleworth and Matthew Henry) add a welcome touch of humour in a show that’s about as non-Christmassy as it’s possible to be, despite an appearance by the Big Man Himself.

Usually there’s at least one mis-cast member of a production, but in L, W and W I just could fault anyone. Perhaps, just an itty-bitty-trying-to-find-a- criticism would be that there are too many damn children in it. But mine are great. Natch.

The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe runs at the Royal Theatre, Northampton, until January 9. Call 01604 624811 for tickets.

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