Many years ago, when I was in the sixth form at school, one of the other girls was studying for some sort of drama exam. I forget exactly what – my school certainly wasn’t relaxed enough to offer drama or theatre studies as an A-level, even if such a thing had existed back then. But as part of her exam I remember that she had to learn and stage a monologue from Gaslight, a classic play written in 1938, that appeared to be a melodramatic thriller about a woman being driven mad by her husband. I only ever saw the one extract, but it struck me as a play that I should keep an eye out for, as it looked quite interesting.
Fast forward thirty years or more, and I’ve finally had a chance to see the whole play. It was this week’s offering at Malvern Theatres, starring Kara Tointon as the put-upon housewife. Apparently, she’s quite famous and perhaps as a result the theatre was almost fully booked. I only managed to get a seat right towards the back of the circle for this afternoon’s matinee performance. I was right in my assessment – it was indeed a melodramatic, Victorian-style thriller. For the second week in a row, one of the key roles was of a violent, controlling psychopath. I wonder if Malvern Theatres is trying to send out some sort of message? The plot this week was about what these days would be classed as domestic abuse – not much physical violence admittedly, but emotional abuse, isolating the woman from her family, and slowly driving her out of her mind – or rather manipulating circumstances so that she feared she was going mad.
The husband was a thoroughly unpleasant character, and the actor got roundly booed at the curtain call – which was a bit unfair, and he looked rather taken aback by that reception! The scene I remembered from school turned out to be right at the end, when the down-trodden wife snapped and finally showed some spirit. I’m pleased I’ve now seen the whole play to finally put that one scene in context. It did rather spoil some of the tension of the play for me though, as I knew that at some point the worm would turn and the husband would get his comeuppance.