Not everyone is left in the dark in Kai Fischer’s reality-confounding revival of Patrick Hamilton’s 1938 potboiler, given fresh life when it first gave rise to the term ‘gaslighting’, a form of of psychological manipulation used to convince victims that they’re mad. When Meg Fraser’s tweed-clad Inspector Rough swoops into Bella Manningham’s increasingly dimly-lit living room, it is with the tireless gusto of an avenging angel seeking to protect womankind from men like Bella’s husband Jack.
On the face of things, Jack, as played with quiet malevolence by Robin Laing, is a standard issue post-Victorian husband and master of his house, with all the everyday misogyny this implies. Full-on flirtation with Ruby Richardson’s sassed-up maid Nancy is just the half of it, and it is clear from the state of Esme Bayley’s woman on the verge Bella that things have gone a little bit further than what passes as normal behaviour.
Things are disappearing from under Bella’s nose, who, in Bayley’s trembling portrayal, looks like she might shatter into a million pieces any second. Cue Fraser’s gloriously meta Inspector Rough, who stomps about, offering glimpses of a thoroughly modern way of doing things, even as it is suggested Rough might be a product of Bella’s fevered imagination.
Set on Fischer’s doll’s house of a set in the gloom of Christoph Wagner’s lighting, such reimaginings are a game enough way of loosening up a play very much of its time. Fischer’s mix of melodrama, noir and something far stranger comes through the thumps and bumps of Matt Padden’s sound design by way of MJ McCarthy’s dream-like chanson. Any fresh light this sheds can’t help but be dimmed by Hamilton’s off-kilter script, so the delirium it induces may be a portent of abusive relationships to come, but without any guarantee of the equivalent of an Inspector Rough to sort things out for the better.
The Herald, March 27th 2019