Gaslighting has become a term for emotional abuse that aims to make victims question their own sanity.
Its origins come from the classic play by Patrick Hamilton, Gaslight, which arrives on tour with Kara Tointon in the role of Bella Manningham, the manipulated wife in Victorian London.
In the last couple of years it’s been nice to do really varied parts
“What I like about it is it’s not your usual whodunnit but a psychological thriller,”she says. “I have never seen the Ingrid Bergman film or a stage production of it. It’s quite refreshing for me because I have done so many of these roles that you know so well. It’s lovely to come to something with fresh eyes.”
The setting is 1880 so she finds herself wearing a corset. “I have never done that before, Eliza sort of had one (she played Eliza Doolittle in Pygmalion in the West End) but not a proper corset, it’s been interesting with my breathing and everything
“It’s such a well written piece and especially for a female is really texturally rich and interesting for me,” she continues. “In the last couple of years it’s been nice to do really varied parts. This came up and I was desperate to do some theatre and read it and was hooked from the first few pages.
“It was perfect timing. I had just finished filming The Halcyon which has a period setting of 1939 and this was written in 1938 so there’s a link there.”
Ah, yes, The Halcyon currently running on ITV in which she plays Betsy the singer in the entertainments section of the hotel.
“It’s always been a bit of a dream of mine to be a singer and I have had singing lessons over the years but I have not put myself out there in that respect. I have kept singing in my own home, not even karaoke just shower singing but it’s something I have always wanted to do,” she confesses..
“I just needed to get my confidence up and then the audition came for Maria (in the ITV live production of The Sound of Music Live in December 2015) and it was one of my favourite films and I went just for a bit of a joke really. Or to test myself and when I got the part they gave me one of the best singing teachers in London, Mary Hammond, and she gave me all these exercises and I can’t believe over an eight-week period I strengthened my voice. I knew you could broaden your range and so I have kept it up and it helped with the jazz singing.”
The Halcyon was an enjoyable experience. “There’s something about wartime with all the camaraderie and people making decisions in a heartbeat which would normally take months to make, living on the edge, and there’s something so exciting about that although equally it’s a scary prospect.”
By contrast she has filmed a comedy for Gold called Henry the Ninth written by Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais. “I play a Scottish flowergirl and that was fun. It’s set today but it’s written in a nostalgic way.”
That said, she seems to have been cast in a lot of period stuff of late. Apart from those already mentioned there has been Mr Selfridge where she played the title character’s daughter alongside real-life sibling Hannah.
“If you had said that eight years ago I would have laughed because I never got seen for period pieces and it was a bit of a pipe dream, I guess,” she says. “I love it. When you are filming or on stage there is something about the timing of a particular period, slightly slower and reserved compared to today where we are rushed and want to get all the information in as quickly as possible. People did have more time in general and spoke more slowly. And it was in everything whether getting ready with these elaborate hair styles or doing up corsets, everything took longer. Just being you was more thought about and laboured, in a good way I think, and I love the style of period pieces.
Gaslight is her first tour, apart from Relatively Speaking, with Felicity Kendal, Jonathan Coy and Max Bennett. “We called the quaint tour because it was places like Bath, Richmond and Malvern.” Unless you count Strictly Come Dancing Live which followed her 2010 triumph and she has fond memories of it.
“All the pressure of the TV show which is so intense and everyone is scared stiff so it is nice to enjoy it without the worry of getting a score of 2. It’s just the panto version of the show.”
She admits that she hasn’t danced since. “It’s one of those things where it’s like the Rolls-Royce experience, everything is done for you, you’re taken to training, you get given costumes you are given a partner and everything else and to go to a class on a Tuesday night isn’t quite the same experience,” she giggles.
Winning Strictly was a double-edged sword as it threatened to take her career off course.
“I had to make a decision because I had gone in such a weird direction in my mind and I had to take myself away from it all so I did just theatre for a couple of years and just went under the radar.
“I could have gone down the personality route but it was not something I was comfortable with. Some people are really good at it but I just wanted to be an actress and do what I have always done.”
Gaslight is at the Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield, from Monday to Saturday.