By Harry Mottram: perhaps the most insidious use of gaslighting recently has been the way Post Office management and directors (along with Fujitsu employees) blamed Postmasters of theft – when all along they knew they were innocent. Gaslighting comes in many forms, from victim blaming to toxic relationships and from distorting the truth to saying something didn’t happen or was untrue. Whether you are the Russian President blaming the Special Military Operation on Ukraine or Liz Truss saying Brexiteer Rishi Sunak is a Remainer – you are gaslighting. And the most common form away from politics is in relationships – and the term originated from a play about an abusive relationship.

The main image and this one are stills from the 1940 movie

The abusive relationship in question is at the heart of Patrick Hamilton’s play Gaslight set to be staged in Axbridge from March 20-23, 2024. The tense, psychological thriller is set in fog bound London at the home of Jack Manningham and his wife Bella. The story hinges on Jack’s attempts to convince Bella that she is going mad in order to mask his dark and deadly past. When amiable and empathetic detective Rough arrives to help Bella, the secrets of Jack’s evil past are finally revealed. A drama about manipulation with underlying themes relating to patriarchal power and class which are as relevant today as they were in pre-war Britain.

The play written in 1938 had long runs in London and New York and has been screened more than once – with the first film perhaps the more famous when it was released in 1940 – and is still available on YouTube. (Pictured). It was directed by Bristol born Thorold Dickinson and featured Diana Wynyard as Bella and Anton Walbrook as her abusive husband. In the Axbridge Community Theatre’s (ACT) production Bella is played by Katie Underhay while Tony Leach plays her evil partner – who is her partner in real life. Tony played the bogus official in The Government Inspector staged by ACT last year while Katie was the air-head Bobchinski in the comedy drama about mistaken identities. Incidentally the creative duo are behind the theatre company Mumblecrust Theatre and are no strangers to treading the boards professionally.

Katie Underhay has created style sheets to help with the costumes for the play

Katie has been instrumental in creating costume styles for Gaslight – directed by John Bailey – who has moved the action from Victorian England to the 1920s when gas lighting was still common. She has drawn up some wonderful inspiration style cards to give a feel of what the characters will be wearing in the claustrophobic setting of their London home. And Katie is also the face of the production’s poster image – taken by Tony to publicise the play.

Katie and Tony

The ACT production also features Tony Wilson as former detective Rough, Katie Weir as Elizabeth, Anna Bailey as Nancy, with Ryan Frewin and Jude Wilson as Rough’s men. It runs from from Wednesday to Saturday, March 20-23, 2024, in the Town Hall, at 7.30pm nightly. If you miss it the play transfers to the Alma Theatre in Bristol for a further two nights the following week. The director John Bailey will be familiar to many in Axbridge as the director of the last three Axbridge Pageants as well as a string of productions for ACT beginning back in 1999.

Patrick Hamilton

Born in Sussex, Patrick Hamilton (1904-1962) was an English playwright and novelist whose contemporaries were Graham Greene and J.B. Priestley. After a brief acting career he began writing a string of novels from the 1920’s to the 1950’s which included ‘The Midnight Bell’, ‘The Siege of Pleasure’, ‘The Plains of Cement’, ‘The Slaves of Solitude’ and ‘The West Pier’. His play Rope was made into a film directed by Alfred Hitchcock and ‘Gaslight as mentioned was also screened with the 1940 production directed by Bristol born Thorold Dickinson. In 1944 a new American film was made, directed by George Cukor and starring Ingrid Bergman. The film was released in the UK as ‘The Murder in Thornton Square’, to avoid confusion with the original British film.

The Government Inspector: Tony Leach as the inspector and Katie as Bobchinski

Tickets for Axbridge at £12 are available at and the Post Office while in Bristol’s Alma Tavern Theatre on Alma Vale Road, they can be bought at £13 from there the play is at 8pm for the two night run of Tuesday to Wednesday 26-27 March.

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