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Gaslight - Comedy Theatre (VIC)

Written by Patrick Hamilton. Adapted by Johnna Wright and Patty Jamieson. Directed by Lee Lewis.


Reviewed by Edelweiss Angelita

Comedy Theatre, Melbourne

Until 24th March


Going into a show without background knowledge or context is one of my favourite things to experience, and Gaslight took me to a whole new level.


Although the term ‘gaslight’ is a familiar concept in this day and age, there’s still plenty of room for uncertainty about the storyline if you’re anything like me. My unfamiliarity with the play and its long history, along with my blatant refusal to make assumptions and speculations about the plot made for a brilliant theatre experience. Literally, I was one of the lucky ones who got to sit in the first row, hence the extreme-sport-level adrenaline.


The play successfully kept the audience guessing throughout the entire first act as the story buildup throughout was exhilarating. The suspense kept thickening with every scene, swizzling the audience in every possible direction, turning knuckles white from gripping the edge of our seats too tightly, until it finally erupted at the perfect moment. A sense of collective relief filled the house, followed by the unmistakable sound of nervous laughter—arguably my favourite part. It’s a testament to Johnna Wright and Pattie Jamieson’s niftiness as playwrights, Lee Lewis’ extraordinary direction, and all four actors’ impeccable execution.


The cast of 'Gaslight'. Images by Brett Boardman


Geraldine Hakewill’s performance as Bella was captivating, to say the least. Hakewill successfully drew the audience into Bella’s world, inviting us to experience the main character’s inner turmoil with her, being just as clueless, frustrated, and desperate for the threads to disentangle. Following Bella’s mystery-solving journey was enthralling in every sense. Hakewill brought an impassioned vulnerability to her character, effortlessly winning the audience’s heart, leaving them with no other option but to root for Bella. In the second act, we got to see every single one of the play’s ridiculously talented actors showcase their unbelievable acting range. What struck me the most in the second act was Hakewill’s ingenious comedic timing. For a show imbued with such a high degree of agitation, Hakewill’s performance demonstrated a perfect balance of levity that she graciously offered the audience throughout the second act, almost like a peace offering for the distress her character induced in the first act. It’s nothing short of refreshing to be able to enjoy an adaptation of a story from the previous century where the girl doesn’t need a knight in shining armour to save her, because she is perfectly capable of saving herself.


Toby Schmitz’s portrayal of Jack was one of the most intriguing aspects of the show, especially in the first act. For a 1900's husband, Schmitz’s portrayal was perfectly likeable and non-repulsive. Performed in front of a modern society, it made for a perfect guessing game; was Jack a genuinely pleasant and decent man? Was he playing tricks on his wife, and by extension the audience? Was he being played by Elizabeth, the housekeeper, or was he working with her to get something from Bella? What if he truly was clueless and innocent? To be able to string the audience along for that long without giving anything away is far from a small feat. Schmitz gave the audience the perfect reason to defend what they believed to be true—which made him an expert at his craft.


Stage and screen legend Kate Fitzpatrick’s performance as Elizabeth was faultless. We never found out for certain on whose side her allegiance lay until right before the very end. Fitzpatrick’s Elizabeth is reserved, making her an interesting suspect should there be any unexpected plot twist. One of the most unforgettable moments in the show was a particular scene in the first act where Elizabeth delivered her daunting speech. It was arguably the most suspenseful scene in the show, executed with such careful intentionality and precision – a performance I will be thinking about for a long time. With Fitzpatrick’s detailed choices, whether her character did it or not in the play, it’s going to surprise the audience that she didn’t do the opposite.


...the most thrilling and arresting piece of theatre that I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying in a long time

Courtney Cavallaro as Nancy brought an unexpected breath of fresh air into the play with her character’s intensity and general lack of awareness. The brashness of Cavallaro’s Nancy seemed out of place for a 1900s setting, which made her the perfect diffuser. For the better part of the first act, I know for a fact that I wouldn’t be the only audience member who was grateful for Nancy’s antics—diffusing the tension at all the right moments, halting the tension from erupting a moment too soon.


More than a thrilling storyline that leaves the audience’s hearts and minds racing, the play was also a visual feast—thanks to Renée Mulder’s vision. The specificity and attention to detail in Mulders set design and costumes was a delight to savour, particularly with regard to Bella and Jack’s outfits. Elegant, dainty, and never too much or not enough, Mulder’s costuming gave Bella’s character even stronger definition. Dressing her in outfits that made her look composed, sensible and tasteful, starkly contrasted with her erratic and irrational behaviour.  Jack was always dressed in the most dapper of suits, making it even easier to like his character, whether consciously or not. With a set so grandiose that had many details to admire, I didn’t mind that the full play took place in the Manninghams’ Victorian sitting room. If anything, it intensified the audience’s curiosity, as the terrifying sounds that Bella claimed to hear at night came from upstairs. We never know who was there, or if anyone was there at all. We never know what’s going on elsewhere in other parts of the house—reinforcing the feeling that anything is possible.


Enhanced with Paul Jackson’s lighting design, the set is elevated to a new level. The five separate gaslights and the light that accompanied Alice’s portrait represent their own characters. I loved watching the way Alice’s portrait seemed to be the last gleam of light that went out, always—as if she was providing a guiding light for Bella. Paul Charlier’s original music and sound design completed the show’s personality. It was daunting, delicate, and precise. The score that played in the sitting room—or in Bella’s mind, for all we know—powerfully reinforced and refined the focus of the work.


Gaslight is the most thrilling and arresting piece of theatre that I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying in a long time. It’s playing a limited run until March 24th at the Comedy Theatre.


 

GASLIGHT


CAST

GERALDINE HAKEWILL. Bella

TOBY SCHMITZ. Jack

KATE FITZPATRICK. Elizabeth

COURTNEY CAVALLARO. Nancy

MADDISON BURRIDGE STANDBY BELLA/NANCY

Julian Curtis STANDBY JACK

Barbara Lowing STANDBY ELIZABETH


CREATIVES

Adapted by JOHNNA WRIGHT & PATTY JAMIESON

LEE LEWIS Director

RENÉE MULDER Set and Costume Designer

PAUL JACKSON Lighting Designer

PAUL CHARLIER Original Music and Sound Design

RODNEY RIGBY Producer

QUEENSLAND THEATRE Producer

Co-Producers MARRINER GROUP, TEG, NEWTHEATRICALS

General Management LAUREN WILEY

Casting ACMN – CARYN CAVANAGH

Marketing and Advertising TICKET HIVE Ticketing Management, JESSICA BENDELL PUBLICITY, National Publicity

Venue Partners CANBERRA THEATRE CENTRE, RIVERSIDE THEATRES PARRAMATTA

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