Gaslight, the latest show at Kevin Spacey's Old Vic, is a big disappointment and raises more questions about this theatre's rather hit-and-miss choice of plays. There's nothing wrong with the production, which has a tip-top cast led by Rosamund Pike, Kenneth Cranham and Andrew Woodall, but the play is irredeemably awful. It's a mock-Victorian thriller written in 1938 by Patrick Hamilton which was highly successful on stage in its day and as a Hollywood film starring Ingrid Bergman. It's an old-fashioned thriller or melodrama of a kind that has completely vanished from the professional theatre, but which in the pre-television age was part of the mainstream repertoire. I'm no expert on Victorian theatre, but I don't think this is really a pastiche of real Victorian melodrama at all. Like Rope, Hamilton's other hit play, it owes more to the 1920s vogue for Grand Guignol or stage horror. Melodrama by definition has no complexity of character; the villain is unredeemably bad and the heroine is always a pure and innocent victim, with no shades of grey. Gaslight has a 'psychological' veneer in that the heroine believes she is losing her mind, though she is only the victim of her husband's tricks. But the heroine quickly realises she isn't going mad at all, and at that point the psychology stops being interesting. None of the characters really develop or learn anything about themselves. Now plays without much characterisation can still work well on stage (think of classic farce), but to compensate they have to have good plotting and structure. That's just what Gaslight doesn't have. The story of the play about a criminal trying to retrieve some hidden rubies is ludicrous and preposterous and full of holes. There's a subplot involving the evil husband chasing the maid, but it leads precisely nowhere. Hamilton had no idea how to create suspense by manipulating the audience's knowledge, and that's the play's biggest flaw. It's set in real time, but there's no 'whodunnit' mystery because the audience knows too much too soon. There's no dramatic irony either because at no time does the audience know more (or less) than the characters on stage. Part of playwriting is knowing when to withhold information, both from the characters and from the audience (think of dear old Agatha Christie), and it's obvious that Hamilton didn't have a clue about this. Reading the programme notes, it's clear that Peter Gill and his cast have delved deeply into the Victorian period to try and breathe life into this hoary old load of nonsense, but I feel they have been wasting their time. I kept waiting for something to turn up -- a sudden Mousetrap-like twist in the plot, some post-modern 39 Steps-like humour and irony, or a level of complexity in the story and the characters. But the melodrama just limped forward to a thoroughly predictable ending. It's not even really frightening, like A Woman in Black, which has been sending old-fashioned shivers down spines for two decades or so. In the theatre, as in the home, I'm afraid that Gaslight has had its day. I hate to see that wonderful theatre the Old Vic half empty, but I'm afraid that the audiences who stay away are probably right. This play should have been left in peace.