Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

jack and rough

Matt Ludlam, standing, as Jack and Jon Richardson as Insp Rough, in rehearsal.

Pictures: Daniel Beaton


Hall Green Little Theatre


Patrick Hamilton’s Victorian melodrama is all about deception, and it even has its own part in the theatrical trickery. It was written not so much in Victorian times, as it would have you believe, but in the last Georgian era.

Far from its setting in the gloomy days of a London bathed in fog, streets lit by flickering gas lamps, it premiered in a far darker gloom, a couple of days after the first Kindertransport arrived from Berlin in December 1938.

It is ostensibly a psychological murder mystery yet at its heart is a very modern theme, an abusive relationship - a theme which has given us the very modern term gaslighting, the psychological abuse, lying and trickery that conspires to make someone question their own beliefs and sanity.

Director Richard Woodward has taken that modern theme to dispense with the Victorian staging and place it in a modern setting in modern dress.

There is a practical point, as well, as he pointed out, in that many of those in a modern audience will have no experience or even knowledge of domestic gas lighting which died out some 80 years or more ago.

The switch works to a point, the telling clue, the anchor of the plot, provided by the gas lights, works equally well with electric lighting, although changing the name of the play to 40 Watt Bulb might not have given it the same appeal.

A modern household with two servants sits less easily, but we will let that pass as another deception.

Matt Ludlam, more often seen in lighter roles, seems to be enjoying himself as the manipulative and thoroughly nasty Jack Manningham, the poisonous husband with moods and temper changing almost between the start and end of a sentence. He belittles wife Bella as a matter of course, hides things and blames her for losing or moving them, and always displays an underlying threat of violence.

Just to add to his appeal he flirts with the servants, who he treats with disdain, dismisses his wife as stupid and inadequate and generally takes male chauvinism to new heights. No more Mr Nice Guy from Matt.

Aimee Heywood is a largely subservient wife Bella, cowed into submission by her domineering and spiteful husband – except we do see flashes of anger, of frustration and aggravation, quickly followed by pleas for forgiveness and abject apologies.


The cast: Director Richard Woodward, top left, Aimee Heywood as Bella, Matt Ludlam as Jack, Jon Richardson as Insp Rough, Beth Flint as Elizabeth and Ruth Holland as Nancy

She lives a life of fear and misery, with her mind unsure of what is real, what is a dream and, simply, what is.

Jon Richardson is Rough, Inspector Rough that is, a retired detective who has one of those unsolved cases which stick around and despite being long officially forgotten, the case, a brutal murder, still burns inside Rough, a challenge to both his curiosity and his professional pride.

A chance encounter, a jogging of the memory, and a 15-year-old trail is no longer cold, and Bella, poor, put upon, verge of madness Bella, is the key, the final piece he needs to solve the mystery.

Hovering around the case, their parts long after the fact, yet still important, are the servants. There is Elizabeth, played by Beth Flint. She is ordered around by Manningham, who revels in the role of master of the house, and sees servants as lesser beings paid to do whatever he wants. That might be the role as he sees it, but not the one Elizabeth plays - her loyalty lies with Bella.

Then there is Nancy, young, flighty Nancy, played by Ruth Holland. She is an unwitting and unpaid informant, openly dismissive of Bella, and has set her sights on Manningham, with, you suspect, profit and advancement the driving force, rather than anything even distantly related to romance. Manningham, who it seems is no paragon of fidelity, is hardly averse to her advances becoming merely one of the duties he is paying for.

Hamilton’s plot spends much of the first act setting the domestic scene with the domineering husband, bullied and intimidated wife and servants at constant beck and call for the most trivial of tasks.

Then, unannounced, Rough appears on the scene and the miserable world of domestic disharmony is suddenly transformed into a thriller, a murder mystery, unfolding word by word, clue by clue.

The play which has had numerous revivals and has added films, TV and radio to its CV in its 85 years treading the boards, still has the ability to intrigue anyone with a liking for thrillers.

Moving it to a more modern age, with electric rather than gas lighting, hardly changes the significance of the illumination, whatever the source, leaving the essential mystery element intact.

Daniel Robert Beaton’s set is a minimalist, white affair, with a table, two chairs and a filing cabinet. Simple, modern and unobtrusive, it suggests no particular era, leaving the murder mystery to find its own way which it does with some style.

I know the play well so the element of surprise is lost but the cast build the tension well, layer upon layer to the final dramatic end in an interesting, well acted murder mystery – and one with the unique distinction of adding a new word for a new form of abuse to the English language. To 01-04-23.

Roger Clarke


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