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The Play Produced Gas Light

John Cropper writes of The Derby Players' production of Gas Light, directed by Dave Jones at The Derby HaJJ, Bury.

The Derby Players is a truly amateur company. We never employ profeSSional or semi­ professional directors and, to maintain a variety of styles of performance as well as to "rest" members, we have a system of voluntary rotation of those of our company willing to under­ take the responsibility. This results, largely, in choice of play to be performed resting with the member undertaking direction. Gas Light was a play that captured Dave's imagination when he saw it performed pro­ fessionally a couple of years ago and, although it boasted a cast of but five speaking parts, plus two walk-ons, the committee agreed it should be given an airing.

Set in the early 1900s, the action takes place in an upstairs drawing room of the household of Mr and Mrs Manningham. The plot, as unfolded by the redoubtable Sergeant Rough, retired, reveals that twenty years earlier, one Alice Barlow, the cabman's friend, was murdered when her throat was cut and she lay dead "in this very room". Rough, a young officer at the time of the murder, had formed a theory to the effect that Alice Barlow was murdered for the Barlow rubies which she had inherited, but were never found. One of the suspects was a distant relative of Alice Barlow named Sydney Power and, at the time in which the play is set, Rough chanced to see Sydney Power who by this time had PAGE

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changed his name to Manning­ ham and married. Manningham occupied the house in which the play is set, but had sealed off the top floor. Mrs Manningham, whose mother died insane, goes in fear of having inherited her mother's complaint. Keys are lost and then found in the bottom of her workbox. Her watch is lost, also her brooch; and a picture is repeatedly moved and found

is interrupted by fluctuations in the brightness of the gas lamp and by Mr Manningham's return to the house, which causes Rough to take refuge in a dressing room - the very room to which Manningham repairs to seek a change of linen. The resumed search reveals Manningham's ruses to slowly and methodically drive his wife mad, but little useful evidence until Mrs Manningham casually

hidden behind the bureau. Bills and papers are mislaid, she hears footsteps overhead and the gas light waxes and wanes when her husband is absent. The troubled Mrs Manning­ ham is at the end of her tether when, out of the blue, enters Sergeant Rough. Sergeant Rough, who solved the Claud­ sley Diamond case, Sergeant Rough who hunted down the Camberwell Dogs. Sergeant Rough assumes control and sets about to unravel the mystery. He explains that Manningham had acqUired the house next door which he secretly enters and then, by way of the roof and skylights, gains access to the isolated top floor of the house in which he lives, there to continue his search for the Barlow rubies. Rough's search for tangible clues

remarks that her brooch was second-hand and bore an inscription "Beloved A.B. from

C.B. 1851." A question about the empty spaces inside the brooch reveals that it "contained some beads which were all loose and falling out", so Mrs Manning­

ham took them out. They were in a vase and, of course proved to be the Barlow rubies. Rough's jubiliarion is so well expressed in that vivid line, "Dear God in Heaven, am [ not a wonderful man?" Mrs Manningham is sent to bed and Rough departs to marshal his forces and obtain a warrant. Manningham, back home, after some dalliance with Nancy, the maid, discovers the assault on his bureau and, with Nancy's connivance, lures Mrs Manningham down from her room. He questions and abuses her, believing she is the culprit. She begins to doubt her recollec­ tion of events, coming to the conclusion she has dreamed it all until Rough dramatically re­ enters from Manninghlm's dressing room. In reply to Man­ ningham's second enquiry for his name, Rough says "[ am. as I have pointed out, a mere spirit. ... Will you have a cigar with a spirit?" Then follows the denouement and Manningham's arrest.

Mrs Manningham is able to wreak a little revenge when, after asking to be left alone with her husband, she proffers help, then professes to be unable to be of any help because she is mad; and because she is mad, she will betray him and will rejoice in her heart. All good dramatic stuff and [ can well understand why it captured Dave's imagination.

Casting The Derby Players bave a rule that, with certain defined excep­ tions, productions must be cast from within the company and, naturally, the longer-standing members know each other's abilities suffiCiently well to be Amateur Stage December 1989


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able to cast by simply taking into account age, sex and suit­ ability of appearance for the character to be played, coupled, of course, with compatibility with the other characters in the play.

used mainly for rehearsals, employing make-shift furniture and props. Fortunately Gas Light is set in one room and therefore could be rehearsed in the furnished room of a house. Get-in and technical set-up took place on Monday evening of the week of the production and members of the cast re hearsed scenes and extracts from the play in ante­ rooms, corridors and corners. A technical rehearsal was held on Tuesday and on Wednesday, the dress rehearsal took place .

technician. Not only did he contrive to produce the some­ what gloomy atmosphere of the Victorian period on the set, he extended it to the auditorium.

Costumes Costumes proved difficult to obtain. With a cast of five one would not expect too many problems but several costume

disclaimed credit for that, saying it was a fault in the fitting. We had a spare bulb on stand-by but, fortunately, just crossing our fingers worked and we didn't need it. The window of the Manning­ ham's drawing room looked out towards the auditorium doors, so we had the "muffin man" ring his "distant bell" - a hand bell from

Settings

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We have few male members so the choice of players was very limited. Manningham was played by the one person gen­ erally thought suitable. Rough was played by one of our members whose actual years were far too few for the char­ acter, but it was thought that, with suitable make-up, he would appear as a passable detective in retirement. In the event, no complaints were heard from the audience, but the local press critic was at pains to emphasise the fact. The female membership allows far more leeway but, again, our member who played Elizabeth, the cook, required the

Because we find it necessary to limit the time taken for get-in and out as much as possible, we tend to playa great deal to black curtains; and on this occasion, Dave decided to stage the pro­ duction in traverse, using black screens in which a black door wa s set for Manningham 's dressing room at one end of the set. The idea worked well because entrances to and exits from the dressing room were few and moments spent off­ stage in the dressing room were brief. Furnishing the set in period was achieved in much the same method as it is usually achieved. The membership was canvassed for Victoriana, then our canvass­ ing was extended to other sources within our ken. Local knowledge helped considerably

sources were investigated. "Sorry, got the period, not the size," or "Got the size but not quite the period." The ladies' costumes were good and truly in period. I am assured tha t Rough's costume was also correct, but we had to com­ promise to some degree in fitt,ing out our fit and muscular Manningham. Nowhere could we obtain policemen's uniforms of correct size and period. We therefore had them walk on in long overcoats and mufflers. Music Our technician also chose the music and opted for a selection of Strauss music and a part of Chic Corea Children's Song incorporating piano and tubular bells. Although written in 1985, it did not seem inappropriate and in fact merited special men­ tion by some members of the audience.

Effects

use of make-up to make her look older. Nancy and Mrs Manning­ ham were both physically and of an age wholly suitable for the parts. Both, when costumed and with normal make-up, apart from making Mrs Manningham paler than she normally appears, looked right.

Rehearsals We were able to get in some­ thing like seventeen rehearsals, six or seven of which had to be held at the director's home. We are not lucky enough to have our own theatre and meet, normally, in a community centre where we have a room about twenty feet by ten feet for our weekly meetings and which, when the season is with us, is Amateur Stage December 1989

and, although some of the properties were quite valuable, our requests to borrow met with no refusals. Finally, our director raided his home - a raid which involved emptying a bureau of its contents and taking up the dining room carpet. His wife was heard to remark with some feel­ ing, ''I'm glad he wasn't directing Bedroom Faru', or we'd all be sleeping on the floor. " I tenta­ tively suggested that the carpet would be ideal for our next production but apparentl y our friendship is more limited than I hoped.

Lighting and Sound Lighting and sound was left, as it usually is, in the capable hands of our Lighting and Sound

The principal "effect" needed was, of course, the fluctuation in the gas light. To find the lamp fitting proved no mean task, but once found , it was ideal. Although the space above the set was in excess of 35 feet in height, we were able to string a wire across some 20 feet above the floor and from it suspend the lamp. Our technician connected it up so that when the lamp dimmed, the whole set illumi­ nation dimmed simultaneously. His control was immaculate. He followed the movements of the actors precisely. The light also flickered a little, but he

the bar - outside the slightly open doors. Door slams were achieved by controlled slamming of a dressing room door which is so theatrically minded that it gives encores of its own volition if not firmly handled. The brooch which held the Barlow rubies seemed, at first, to be something of a difficulty until one of the company came up with a tiny oval powder compact which flicked open quite realistically when partly concealed in a cup­ ped hand as the fingers of the other manipulated a non-existant pin. Red beads served for the rubies and our "expert" on whisky didn't think the Bell's label had changed a great deal over the years so a half bottle was obtained and the metal cap and its retaining ring snipped off. A wine cork did duty for a stopper. The actors were only allowed cold tea diluted to colour match the bottle's original contents. We used a genuine vintage medicine bottle with cork and doseage gradations marked down the side for Mrs Manningham's medicine. The programme cover was designed and executed by one of our newer members and photo­ graphs were taken at the dress rehearsal. The set was stripped immediately after the last pro­ duction (the moment of sadness) and our post-production party took place the following evening in the usual euphoric atmosphere which sees the end of a run . I am sure it is true to say that we enjoy our productions just as much as our audiences seem to enjoy them. 0

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Gaslight - Dec 1989