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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at the Old Vic

By Michael Leech

  Rosamund Pike and Andrew Woodall/ Ph: Alastair Muir

Oh dear will they never learn? You can't serve a Victorian melodrama as cold cuts - it needs the sauce of excess and surprise and in this otherwise slick production whilst director Peter Gill does a solid job he misses out. He shapes it well, sets it in an appropriate 19th century sitting room (design is by Hayden Griffin ) and the pace is good - but this is a hot house story, not a naturalistic play. And you do need that essential excess.
Never once does one feel, as gas lamps flicker low and shadows haunt the over-decorated room, that there is danger in the London streets. Nor that footfalls in the attic are menacing to the poor lonely little wife. In short you watch, get interested, yet not once catch your breath, let alone shudder. The bubbles of a wicked brew never pop to the surface.
Well they didn't for me as once they had at the weekly rep in my home town when I was growing up. Great Yarmouth had lots of shows as a major seaside resort rather like Atlantic City. It also had the Little Theatre, a group of professional actors who did a play a week - that set the wicked theatre seed for this regular ticket-buyer. Gaslight was a popular solid standby play - it still is. One set, few actors, same costumes, except for the naughty housemaid Nancy - who is a slut on her nights out. Patrick Hamilton's play is still popular (he also wrote the chilling Rope): well played it should still work well.
The story of a pretty woman with a devilish husband who controls and mentally tortures her is a good one, even more so when we discover, via Rough (Kenneth Cranham) , the detective sergeant later in the play, that a woman has been murdered in this very sitting room.
As Bella Rosamund Pike is a light bird, flitting nervously about her cage, but she should be more vital less vapid. One gets bored with her flutterings. Husband Andrew Woodall has menace but hides it rather too well. Two servants slip in and out but it isn't until Rough arrives that the production catches fire. He is splendid and pulls it all together, but it's a bit late by then. It can be a most compelling evening. Some will know it from the film in which Ingrid Bergman did a lot of anguish. Unfortunately here we don't get hard, macabre black-and-white treatment.
The play suits this splendid old theatre, which was redecorated by a superb designer Tanya Moiselwitsch and has recently been overhauled (though they miss out on things such as the tassels all round the balcony.) Kevin Spacey needs such popular plays at his Old Vic. This production isn't the best choice however, and he has yet to prove that in selecting fare and artists he is a worthy follow-up to the doughty ladies who founded it (and Sadlers' Wells), and such great theatre men as Tyrone Guthrie.


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