Who: State Theatre Company
When: 4 — 19 September 2020
Where: Her Majesty’s Theatre
Tickets: Sold out, but a new show has been added! Get ’em here
Coinciding with the re-opening of the newly re-furbished Her Majesty’s Theatre, The State Theatre Company has finally returned after their COVID closure with a sold out run of Patrick Hamilton’s 1938 thriller Gaslight.
Bella Manningham (Ksenja Logos) is at her wit’s end. Her husband, Jack (Nathan O’Keefe), is insisting that she is beginning to lose her mind. She is misplacing belongings, paintings are disappearing from the walls, and the gas lights seem to dim and brighten without her touching them. It’s here we find her, after a bad episode, when a stranger appears on her doorstep with another explanation.
With the play unravelling in a single room over the course of an evening, the production is loyal to the original play. The set design is, as always with State Theatre Company productions, truly excellent as we are transported back in time to a 19th century London living room. The most obvious change to the original production is director Catherine Fitzgerald’s decision to cast a female actor in the role of Inspector Rough (Eileen Darley), an acknowledgement that up until recently women have almost exclusively supported other women through situations of domestic violence.
Gaslight is quiet, the sound design is minimal for the most part, but creeps in to support the underlying anxiety as the evening progresses. This is extremely powerful. While the story itself unfolds somewhat predictably, the music works to build the tension. The lighting aids in this, with the fog from a cold London evening making the room hazy initially, and later the shadows from the dimming and illuminating of the gaslights an additional layer to this ever increasing pressure.
There are no standouts in this production, with Logos, O’Keefe, and Darley all solid in their performances. Ellen Freeman and Katherine Sortini, who play the servants, Elizabeth and Nancy, are both equally strong. The intensity between each of the characters strong enough to carry the narrative, amidst hammy British accents that alternate between fun and grating.
In her director’s note, Fitzgerald remarks that the themes at the core of this play — patriarchal power and class — remain just as relevant today as they were over 80 years ago when it was first written. It’s remarkable to me that Gaslight exists at all. In many ways, Hamilton seems ahead of his time with this story, but it’s a story that was wildly popular in the 1940s, spawning multiple film, television, and radio adaptations.
With the titular term “gaslighting” enjoying a resurgence in contemporary vernacular, and with the overwhelming domestic violence statistics that we continue to face in Australia in mind, Gaslight is a story that remains more relevant than ever and the State Theatre Company has done it justice.
4 out of 5 stars
— Natalie Carfora