GASLIGHT

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Revivalism in the theatre does have its charms. Normally a retrogressive procedure, it sometimes has benefits, permitting later generations to savour the working methods of major senior directors. When the director is 83-year-old British stalwart Geoffrey Kendal, when he evidently still puts tremendous labour into a production at this age, then one does not mind sitting through so worn a chestnut as Gaslight (presented by Anamika Kala Sangam and Sangit Kala Mandir).

Prithvi Players’ show has other attractions, too. It continues the family tradition, for Kendal’s granddaughter, Sanjna Kapoor, stars as the ingenue played by Jennifer and Laura Kendal before her. It marks the auspicious theatrical comeback of Gerson da Cunha after a decade, and the return of Pearl Padamsee as an actress after her recent illness. These factors offset the fact that Patrick Hamilton has become passe, that historians now discount his success as a writer of thrillers (though this 1938 play was one of the longest-running non-musicals on Broadway).

But the production is valuable most of all as a period piece, an education as to how the popular genre of Victorian melodramas used to be staged. From the immaculately-designed box set of a red-wallpapered drawing room to the naturalistic lights (apparently planned by Shashi Kapoor) to the minutely tutored and nuanced acting, everything points to Kendal’s reputedly tyrannical directorial hand stressing attention to detail. No Indian directs like this anymore, and realistic scenography has gone out of fashion everywhere.

Gaslight is an actor’s play: Hamilton himself was an actor. Sanjna Kapoor capitalizes, with an earnest expressivity and the carefully-constructed emotional buildup necessary to melodrama. A natural on stage, da Cunha fairly floats through as the inspector in shining armour. If one must cavil, it is at Vijay Crishna, who should lay on the husband’s charm at the start so that we don’t know what to believe, rather than act curmudgeonly from the beginning and alienate us permanently. Both maids (Padamsee and Pooja Ladha) individualize their parts impeccably, but Kendal makes Ladha more forward than in the text, where the rakish husband makes the first move: kissing her “in a violent and prolonged manner” according to the stage directions.

(From The Telegraph, 2 October 1993)