Review: Gaslight, Axbridge Town Hall: Mr Manningham must go down as one of the dottiest criminals to have been portrayed on the stage. As his quest to find dead Alice Barlow’s lost jewels includes midnight searches of her rooms by entering next door and clambering over the roof to access the murdered woman’s apartment is well… convoluted to say the least. All this while deceiving his ‘wife’ Bella who is convinced she’s hearing things. No spoilers but he tries to convince her that she’s going mad so as to literally cover his tracks.

Elizabeth (Katie Weir) comforts Bella (Katie Underhay)

Patrick Hamilton’s Victorian melodrama gave rise to the phrase ‘gaslighting’ which has become overused in recent times as politicians try to outdo each other as they accuse each other of ‘gaslighting’ over racism, sexism and well, almost anything with an ‘ism’ in it. The play billed as a psychological thriller was first staged in 1939 and was a smash hit and ran in the West End and Broadway as well as twice being made into a movie in an age when gas lights were still common in people’s homes.

Nasty Mr Manningham (Tony Leach) bullies poor Bella (Katie Underhay)

Axbridge Community Theatre’s (ACT) production of the Hamilton’s drama stuck closely to the original script and staging but also introduced a wonderfully eerie soundtrack by Iain Weir sung by Ede Bailey and formulated by the play’s director John Bailey. It certainly added to the slightly spooky atmosphere in which the drama unfolds in its setting in the Manningham’s London flat. There Mr Manningham (Tony Leach) dominates poor Bella (Katie Underhay) as he continues his campaign of manipulation and deceit. These two actors gave outstanding performances – Katie Underhays’ ability to convince as the brow beaten partner moved one to want to intervene and save her from her oppressor – but it’s not the done thing to leave the audience and remonstrate with the baddie on stage – apparently. Her gesticulations, body language and hand movements to articulate her frustrations and fears were fab – and helped to convey her sense of confusion. Opposite her was the pompous and manipulative Mr Manningham played with appropriate arrogance and haughtiness by Tony Leach. He also looked good in a chocolate brown pin striped suit while Katie’s outfit was neat and trim as she nervously pulled the hem of her dress over her knees as she looked down at the floor in submission.

Fortunately, she had a knight in shining armour in the generous shape of former detective Rough. Tony Wilson enjoyed himself as her saviour with his bottle of whisky, lock-breaking skills and his detective work as he paced up and down as he unpicked Manningham’s dodgy past. Tony excels in these larger-than-life characters such as the Mayor in ACT’s last production of The Government Inspector and as the sinister Irish gangster in Harold Pinter’s The Birthday Party.

The larger than life character Rough (Tony Wilson)

Bella is served by two maids in the play – helpful but nervous Elizabeth who is clearly frightened by Manningham and Nancy who is less than helpful. In fact, she’s after replacing Mrs Manningham and uses her wily feminine charms to seduce the protagonist and usurp his other half. Actually, wily, may not be the word as she goes for full on snogs with him and makes it more than obvious, she’ll do anything for him – if you get my drift – such a saucy character. Played with a twinkle in her eye by Anna Bailey, this was a highly entertaining performance – with her wonderfully devious facial expressions and darting movements she created one of the highlights of the production.

The protagonist and his victim – super photos by Adam Clutterbuck

Poor Elizabeth seemed to have to always apologise to Mr Manningham – almost as much as Bella – Katie Weir gave a brilliant rabbit-caught-in-the-headlights performance.

Played with a twinkle in her eye – Nancy was portrayed by Anna Bailey

That leaves the men – or rather Rough’s henchmen who have a minor but vital part to play in the denouement. Ryan Frewin and Jude Wilson looked the part of men you need around you when a murderer is in the room.

Director John Bailey kept true to Hamilton’s story but moved the action from Victorian England to 1920s smog filled London which brought a more contemporary feel. And with one of the best sets designed by David Parkin and put together by a team of Dave Moore, John Dunstone and Stella Moore the drama had a professional and convincing look – complete with easy chair, a table set for tea and muffins – plus cabinet and desk with a set of drawers in which there were secrets.

Don’t mess with the men: Ryan Frewin and Jude Wilson

Lighting was key (Pete Homewood) as the drama is affected by the gas lights rising and falling in brightness as devious Mr Manningham turns them on and off in various parts of the house. Speaking of properties – and excellent costumes – thanks must go to Katie Underhay, Lesley Williams and Sandra Slingsby as they all added to the production – as indeed was Bella’s neat blonde bun – emphasising the attention to detail pressed home by the director in this superb and highly recommended production.

Harry Mottram

The play runs to Saturday 23 March 2024 in Axbridge Town Hall.

The production was produced by Phil Saunders and has an excellent programme for sale available for £2.

If you missed the play, then it is on next week in The Alma Tavern Theatre in Bristol – or you may want to see the original film version – available at

Photos by Adam Clutterbuck.

More details of ACT and their productions can be found at

Mark 20-23 November 2024 in your diaries for ACT’s next play.

Axbridge News is edited by Harry Mottram and is published for the interest of himself and fellow residents.

Harry is a freelance journalist. Follow him on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube etc