Rupert Young – best known as Sir Leon in the BBC drama series Merlin – says he’s wary of digging out an old “museum piece” and putting it in front of the public.
He’s delighted to confirm that Gaslight is anything but. It remains a thrillingly-good thriller, as the cast are discovering on a tour which brings them to the Theatre Royal Brighton from Monday to Saturday, February 6-11.
Kara Tointon plays Bella Manningham, memorably portrayed by Oscar-winner Ingrid Bergman in the classic 1944 film adaptation. Rupert is her husband Jack, a man who goes out on the town each evening leaving his wife home alone where, it seems, she is losing her mind.
She can’t explain the disappearance of familiar objects, the mysterious footsteps overhead or the ghostly flickering of the living room gaslight. Does the terror exist in her imagination alone or are dark secrets living in her home? The surprise arrival of retired detective Rough (Keith Allen) leads to a shocking discovery…
“It’s a strange piece of work that was written in the 1940s but set in the 1800s,” Rupert says. “For me, as actor, you have got to find the truth of a piece, and the last thing you want to do is a museum piece with old costumes that, when the curtain goes up, creates a distance between you and the audience and the audience are thinking ‘That would never happen now!’ We were all slightly worried about that. But I didn’t really know the piece at all. I hadn’t realised that it was such a brilliant play. I read it half thinking that it was going to seem old tosh, but I read it and thought it was fantastic.
“And I hesitate to say it, but it almost seems more relevant now than it would have done when it was first performed. I think we are now so much more in tune and aware of mental health and the way that people manipulate other people in our times when marriages are supposed to be marriages of two equals. Back then, it was more a question of finding a woman to marry who will have a family and be subservient to the husband. But the base line is that we discovered that it is a really good thriller.”
He’s also finding it easier to talk about. Doing interviews before the production opened, Rupert recalls he was very cautious not to give anything away: “Kara and I would be talking about opening the play and seeing this lovely couple, and we were saying that you have to believe that they are two people in love and that it is a real marriage.”
Now, with the tour under way, he finds it easier to confess: his character most definitely has his darker sides: “Really within the first scene we know that for whatever reason I am slightly unhinged and unpleasant towards my wife, and the audience members think they can see why because to all intents and purposes he is getting annoyed because she is going a bit insane. But people can start to see that I am being slightly manipulative.
“In fact, so far I am getting booed most nights. At least I think it is for my character and not my acting! But I am really playing a different part to the parts I am usually playing. Without sounding too arrogant, usually the parts I play are of the charming leading man. I was in High Society at the Old Vic, and that part was the absolute antithesis of what I am doing now!”
Rupert’s previous television work includes episodes of Doc Martin, Foyle’s War, Hotel Babylon, The White Queen, Doctor Who and numerous others. He has most recently performed in While The Sun Shines for Bath Theatre Royal.
“Really for me, it is just about getting interesting parts, parts that push you and challenge you.”
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