I was delighted to once again attend a LADS production at Lopping Hall
after all the trials and tribulations that theatre had experienced
throughout the pandemic.
On arrival I collected my ticket and programme from the friendly box
office staff and also met Cathy Naylor, the company's Chairman on my way
into the auditorium. She also expressed her delight at being able to
present live theatre once again. I was guided to my pre-allocated seat
by a helpful usher and settled in to enjoy the show.
While waiting for the play to begin I read the programme which, as
usual, was of a high standard. Printed on good quality glossy paper with
full colour photos of the cast and rehearsals, it contained all the
necessary information you would expect as well as an additional note
from the director and a page detailing the current useage of the term "gaslighting"
and advice about dealing with the problem. It represented good value and
was a credit to its designer Howard Platt.
I also became aware of some background music which added to the
anticipation of what was to come. I thought this was a nice touch. The
announcement about mobile phones and electronic equipment was also
novel, utilising different ring tones to make the point.
The stage curtains were open and the set was on show albeit in dimmed
lighting. There are a number of options when it comes to the opening of
a production. The curtains can be closed until the play begins and the
actors are discovered on stage or the curtains can be open and the
actors already in place before the audience enters. Alternatively the
stage lights can go to black as the house lights go down and the actors
make their entrance in the dark. This last option is what the company
elected to do. This is my least favourite option as the audience can see
the actors coming onto the stage which doesn't help to create the
illusion of reality.
However, the set was truly believable as a nineteenth century sitting
room. The design and construction was superb with an eye for detail in
the furniture and set dressing. The wallpaper was just right and the
addition of a dado rail was a clever touch. The gaslights (critical to
the action of the play) looked terrific, with their orange glow creating
just the right atmosphere. A staircase and various entrances together
with a matching chaise longue and armchair, carpet, table and bureau,
realistic fireplace and period looking pictures completed the picture.
LADS sets are always excellent and on this occasion congratulations
must go to Lee Kenneth for his work in design and construction. It was a
pleasure for the audience to view and must have been a joy for the
actors to work with.
Properties sourced and controlled by Sue Bonner and Martin Polaine were
of the period and contributed greatly to the overall authenticity of the
It was also vital that costumes were authentic for the period and this
was brilliantly achieved by Liz Adams who was responsible for Wardrobe.
Nancy's outfit which she wore in Act 3 when returning from a night on
the town, was particularly striking, though Manningham's line "pretty
though your bonnet is........" didn't quite work as, from where I was
sitting, her bonnet looked to be plain and black. This aside, I'm sure
it helped the cast to be so well dressed for the period.
Sound Design by Andrew Rogers and Sound Operation by Sarah Biggs worked
well. I liked the interval music which added to the general atmosphere
and the sound effects on stage of doors closing etc were timed
Sarah was also responsible for Lighting Operation. It was extremely
important that this was done accurately as the dimming of the gaslights
signalled vital information to the characters on stage. Sarah timed it
to perfection every time. At one point Elizabeth says to Mrs Manningham
"You mustn't go on lying here in the dark............" and at that point
the stage needed to be darker than it was to make sense of the line but,
that apart, the tricky lighting plot worked terrifically well.
The leading roles in "Gaslight" are demanding. Emma Middleton, playing
Mrs Bella Manningham, in particular has an arduous role in portraying a
woman broken by her husband's terrible treatment of her and becoming
increasingly doubtful of her sanity. She maintained her anguished state
throughout the play and conveyed her suffering with conviction. It must
have been an exhausting part to play and she certainly gained the
audience's sympathy very quickly. She could possibly have found more
places in which her character could be a little lower key and calmer as
a contrast to the high pitch at which she was (quite rightly for the
most part) played but this is a minor caveat about an excellent
performance. Along with the rest of the audience, I particularly enjoyed
the manner in which she tormented her husband in the very last scene.
Dean Bartholomew played the evil Mr Jack Manningham, a man constantly
seeking to convince his wife of her insanity by playing devious tricks
on her and lying about her behaviour. Dean got off to a slightly shaky
start in the opening scene with rather too many hand gestures and small
indecisive moves. He did settle into the part though and his performance
improved as the play went on. Sometimes the angry outbursts made by his
character were a little too sudden and loud when something more subtle
would have been more threatening. It may be that he wanted to explicitly
convey Jack Manningham's dark side but he needed to find different ways
of doing it. He did, however, make a very convincing villain. At the
beginning of Act 2 I loved Deans relaxed humming of a tune upon his
return home and the scene between Dean and Amy Taylor as Nancy the maid
was excellent. The changing of his attitude to her, from lust to being
dismissive, was very believable. Overall a good performance in a tricky
I thought at first that Andrew Rogers playing of ex detective Rough was
too overbearing when he first entered and that Mrs Manningham would have
been so taken aback that she would have made a run for it. However, when
I re-read the play I saw that the stage direction says that he
completely dominates the scene from the start and so his somewhat
overpowering manner on his first entrance was probably justified. There
was, however, a little too much finger pointing on his part to start
with but this disappeared once Andrew settled into the part.
Anyone who has played a policeman investigating a crime will know that
it is an extremely difficult role. This is because you will be asking a
lot of questions, instigating conversations and generally driving a
scene forward without always having the benefit of responding to cues.
Andrew didn't let this phase him and embodied Rough with great
confidence. He becomes a very likeable character with his sense of
humour, immodesty ("Dear God in heaven, am I not a wonderful man?") and,
above all, his caring nature in respect of Mrs Manningham. Andrew acted
out all these qualities immaculately much to the audience's delight.
At the end of Act 1 and the beginning of Act 2 he had some very long and
intricate speeches of exposition about the murder of Alice Barlow, the
missing rubies, Sydney Power and so forth. A lesser actor might have
struggled with these but Andrew handled them brilliantly and crucially
he held the audience's interest throughout. All in all, his stage
presence and skill made for a terrific performance.
The contributions of Jean Cooper as Elizabeth the housekeeper and Amy
Taylor as Nancy the maid should not be overlooked. Indeed they both
played an important part in telling the story. Elizabeth's reactions to
Manningham's behaviour and then her complicity with Rough in helping to
bring him to justice were beautifully expressed on Jeans face and the
audience were left in no doubt as to where her sympathies lay. She also
made the most of any humour she could find in her characterisation. A
very believable performance. Amy gave Nancy just the right amount of
sauciness as she teased Manningham with her flirting. Kissing on stage
is not an easy thing to do and can quite often look uncomfortable to the
audience but not in this case. They kiss three times in quick succession
and it is testament to Dean and Amy that it seemed to be a natural
progression of what was happening.When rejected by him her reaction was
excellent. I believe that this was the first time on stage with LADS for
Amy and on this showing it is to be hoped that she does a lot more with
All of the actors showed great confidence in their roles and never
looked like stumbling over or forgetting their lines. This was no mean
feat considering some of the tricky speeches written for them by Patrick
Great credit must go to Director Christian Mortimer for taking on a
difficult play under what, I can only assume, were difficult
circumstances in which to rehearse due to the pandemic. Aided and
abetted by his Production Assistant Cathy Naylor, he presented the first
night audience with a very accomplished piece of work which held our
interest from start to finish. His Stage Manager, Karen Rogers also
ensured that all of the practical side of the production worked
faultlessly on opening night.
Despite being seated towards the back of the large auditorium I heard
every word with ease as the cast projected well and their diction was
faultless. Christian ensured that pace was maintained throughout but
varied it where necessary in order to add colour where needed. I did
feel on occasions that moves could have been more expansive and that the
upstage area, which is the strongest position for an actor, could have
been used more. However, for the most part the blocking looked natural
and worked in the context of the storyline. The two hours or so that I
spent in the theatre passed in a flash; always a good sign.
It's usually apparent to me when a director has enjoyed his work and
loves the play he has worked on. Judging by "Gaslight's" end result I'm
sure that this was the case with Christian. All in all, the show never
flagged and we were given an excellent evening's entertainment. This was
reflected in the hearty and sustained applause at the curtain call from
an audience who had obviously enjoyed themselves, were pleased to be
back seeing live theatre and were appreciative of a terrific production.
It was lovely to return to Lopping Hall and see
such a full house for the last night of Gaslight. The audience seemed
delighted to be back, meeting friends and looking forward to live drama.
I had seen some favourable comments pinging around WhatsApp from the
first two nights of Gaslight and so my expectations were heightened.
Choice of play
As you explained well in your programme ‘Gaslighting’ is a modern
term for emotionally abusive behaviour that has become widely used over
the last 10 years or so. To bring the original 1938 play to your
audience was a terrific idea. I felt I was watching the most
contemporary 1930s play I’d ever seen and couldn’t stopping wondering
what the original audiences would have thought of the play. We know
Gaslight was a great success and so I suspect their emotions and
reactions were the same as ours.
Another small cast play makes sense during these
Covid times but the challenge then still remains of relying on a few
people to keep well. I understand the isolation regulations disturbed
rehearsals towards the end of last year but, with a talented and
dedicated team, you can achieve the same high standards.
Front of House and Programme
An efficient and friendly welcome as always and help if needed in
finding our seats. I do like the seating layout you provide with small
blocks and raised areas. It provides excellent sightlines probably at
the expense of some ticket income. Very generous and much appreciated.
As always, an excellent Programme with interesting
articles and photographs. A good piece on gaslighting as previously
mentioned and I liked the suggestions if people needed further help.
Advertising your next production makes good sense and enables regular
supporters to log the dates. I notice no reference to NODA for which I
expect you have your reasons but I’d be happy to discuss if you wished.
Set and Staging
I thought your set was remarkable. The overall look worked so well
and created the living room setting for the play. I loved the high
fireplace and mirror which I suspect was tailormade. The dado rail and
picture rail were a necessary detail and worth the extra work at set
build. The furniture and dressing worked well and having a matching
chair and chaise longue was classy. The colour scheme blended well
together and the wallpaper looked authentic. I wasn’t sure about the
brown curtains but they merged into the background successfully.
May I offer you a challenge that I do out of
respect for the craftsmanship of your construction team. Could you use a
mortice latch or roller catch door handle rather than magnet catches?
From the sounds the two doors were successfully held shut by magnets
which clicked every time they were open or closed. A clunk of a closing
door would be lovely, if aspirational.
Christian Mortimer did a fine job moving the actors and action
around the stage. There was stillness when required, pacing to give
character to Rough and a few choregraphed pictures to emphasise a point.
I liked the image created by Jack leaning from behind on Bella’s
shoulders towards the end of Act III and its repetition when the tables
are turned with Bella’s final scene, “watching you go with glory in my
heart”. His touching of her hand or arm was uncomfortable to watch and
conveyed the right tone.
The care needed to find the right balance of
melodrama without being overly melodramatic must have been a challenge.
I thought the script tended to push more towards the melodramatic but
this may have been too crass for this subject matter in these times. For
me the balance you achieved was impressive.
There were wonderful performances that can only
come from good collaboration between Director and Actor. The discipline
of movement and delivery, the building of tension, the anxiety of Mrs
Manningham, the storytelling to move the plot along and the viciousness
of abuse were well executed and paced by Christian. All of which kept
the audience engaged throughout.
This was a talented troop that gave very high quality performances.
The interactions between all five were intense and required depth of
character to portray the emotions without making the play melodramatic.
At times the cast made watching the play uncomfortable which was exactly
what was required.
Emma Middleton took on the demanding part of Mrs Bella Manningham. A
part demanding in terms of size and scale. A full range of emotions were
called for and Emma hit them all with great skill. The early signs of
her nervousness towards Mr Manningham set the atmosphere swiftly,
followed by the joy at being promised the chance to see Mr MacNaughton.
“You’ve been so much kinder lately” made me cringe in anticipation.
Emma’s reactions to Nancy “The little beast!’ gave us plenty to
understand what was going on between Nancy and Jack.
The tremble in Bella’s voice when denying moving
the picture. The finger rubbing when the anxiety levels rose and the
anguish of “Don’t leave me”. Her state of mind showing signs that
enabled Mr M to treat her as “stark gibbering mad”. All this made for a
superb performance that only real tears could have topped.
By the final scene the audience was willing Bella’s
defiance and Emma delivered with every ounce she had. A wonderful scene
to finish a wonderful performance. Well done.
As a “man of some power” Dean Bartholomew gave us a horrid Mr
Manningham in the best possible way. This was a character with nothing
to like about him. An abusive bully, able to manipulate and flip to
aggression with disturbing ease.
Dean is undoubtedly a very talented actor and this
part gave him a wonderful opportunity to display his ability to the
full. Indeed, as Sydney Power, Mr Manningham thought he could have been
an actor and “take a part and lose [himself] entirely in the character
of someone else”. His manipulation of Bella to doubt herself so much was
masterfully undertaken. In the first scene Mr M could have been Mrs M’s
carer with his choice of language but by “Someone else!” we saw how he
I liked the whistling of ‘Rock-A- Bye Baby’ at the
Act II entrance. The murderer whistling the children’s nursey rhyme was
very creepy. Then ‘Ride of the Valkyries’ in Act III made me wonder if
he had returned from the Opera? Lovely choices.
The final scenes gave Dean a chance to shift the
character into the weak bully. He had great expressions during Rough’s
explanation and during Mrs Manningham’s delight in revenge.
Above all I thought the way Dean achieved an air of
distance between him and all the other characters was impressive. Always
manipulating and manoeuvring for his own benefit. A horrific character
who appeared quite normal, calm almost caring.
Patrick Hamilton gives detective Rough the job of moving the plot
along, proving Jack Manningham’s real identity and bringing some humour
into this dark world. In Andrew Rogers’ hands we had all that the author
asked and more. This was a first-rate performance from an experienced
actor in fine form.
Andrew brought an increased pace and energy from
his first entrance, lightening the mood and allowing the audience a
laugh and a smile. “You’re the lady that’s going off her head” delivered
in a familiar accent that aided the comedy superbly. Rough was more
animated than the other characters and disciplined in his movement to
help define the character.
I loved Rough’s reaction to the insufficient
sweetened tea. His telling the Alice Barlow story in an enhanced
melodramatic style kept the audience engaged in the unveiling of the
plot. Rough’s rather idiosyncratic laugh was delightful and brought
laughs from your audience, a lovely touch.
The way Andrew and Emma matched the action, pace
and intensity from Act I into the opening of Act II was very cleverly
done. It was so much more than just standing in the same places.
Rough’s entrance in Act III relieved the powerful
tension between Jack and Bella as our hero in the large black coat comes
to save our heroine. We knew Rough would be more than a match to Jack
and so it proved.
Shame the cigar wouldn’t easily light, zippo
lighters are usually more reliable than matches or better still cut the
smoking when, like in this play, it’s not necessary.
I really enjoyed Andrew’s performance that was
well-crafted and expertly delivered. Nice work.
Jean Cooper as Elizabeth gave us a touch of normality amongst the
unconventional others. She brought much needed kindness and caring to
the play. Happy to help the detective and keep up a pretence despite
telling Mr Manningham she would always be loyal to him. This gave the
sense that Elizabeth was more concerned about Mrs M and her illness. I
liked this character and Jean’s fine portrayal.
Amy Taylor played Nancy with attitude (or latitude). Her flirtatious
manner made it fairly obvious why she was employed and the power Nancy
had over Mrs M was cruel and well portrayed by Amy. The scene in Act III
between Nancy and Jack was authentically played and even though the
audience knew what their relationship was, witnessing the affair and the
kissing was actually quite a shock. Nancy seemed to have some power over
‘Sir’, power that comes with being the object of desire. Amy made the
most of her scenes and relvealed another marred character.
Both gave arresting portrayals. I thank you!
Sound and Lighting
I liked the choice of music between Acts. The slightly creepy piano
reminded me of Hogwarts. It helped to create the atmosphere.
The gas lights worked well and looked just right. I
liked that they could be turned up and down independently of each other.
I wondered if they could have gone down independently when the gas
pressure lessened. Perhaps this more gradual dimming would have added a
little menace to the tension of Mr Manningham returning to the attic.
A special mention to Liz Adams for another outstanding outing for
your costume collection. Everyone looked so well dressed. Rough’s style
was something he appeared proud of and Bella’s rather ordinary attire
showed that she was not bought fine clothes.
I liked Mr Manningham’s frock coat, very stylish.
It was a shame he wasn’t given a coat stand to hang it on rather than
hanging it over the back of the chair – was that a practice in Victorian
Thank you for choosing this play and presenting a subject matter
that is rather more common than we may suspect. The cast and crew gave a
fine performance that asked a lot of the actors. Each were very skilled
and everyone contributed to a superb production.
Thank you for the memorium to Roger Barker in the
foyer. Many people were looking at it on Saturday night. A lovely
tribute to a lovely man.