Gaslight (Queensland Theatre) – theatre review

With ‘gaslighting’ being the word of the year in 2022 and mentioned across social media and in real life countless times, it won’t be a surprise to contemporary audiences what the essence of this play is about.

It’s interesting to note that Patrick Hamilton wrote the original back in 1938 when its revelations about a man’s insidious manipulations of his wife to make her think she’s going crazy would likely have rocked audiences. It was then adapted into a hit movie starring Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer in 1944, and has had several stage revivals since then.

So, why tackle Gaslight in 2024? Well, this adaptation by Johnna Wright and Patty Jamieson removes one of the original characters, thus placing much more agency in the hands of the lead female character, Bella, in a perfectly pitched performance by Geraldine Hakewill. She possesses a fragility when she’s faced with the seemingly inexplicable but also a strength to fight when she realises that not everything is as it appears to be.

The setting is the original Victorian era, with just one set of a dark, imposing drawing room with a window to one side that occasionally lets in light but never lets us see the world outside (Renee Mulder is the scenic and costume designer). It imposes a claustrophobic feeling that Bella has to deal with as she sinks deeper and deeper into doubting her own sanity. And yes, there are actual gaslights in the house and they form an important part of the plot (Paul Jackson is the lighting designer). This is a great education for modern audiences who might not know the origin of the term ‘gaslighting’, even if they’re aware that it came from the play and/or film.

Toby Schmitz is fine and suitably skin-crawling as the seemingly devoted new husband, Jack, who mysteriously disappears out to do ‘business’ at his club on many nights, leaving Bella to deal with strange noises in the attic. She asks the housekeeper, the dour Elizabeth (Kate Fitzpatrick relishing the role with a touch of dry humour), if she can hear them but apparently she can’t. And then there’s the new maid, the sassy Nancy (Courtney Cavallaro), who offers no sympathy and even less respect to her new mistress.

Lee Lewis, Queensland Theatre’s Artistic Director, has directed this performance in a way that is in keeping with the Victorian Gothic genre in which it’s set. There’s nothing groundbreaking in how it’s presented, but that adds to the feeling that it’s a classic and should be viewed as such. A few times, the audience might have laughed in moments where they shouldn’t have though, perhaps because modern, sophisticated audiences can see through some of the more obvious insincerity in the character of Jack. It doesn’t overly detract from what is an important story to tell, considering how women are often still treated in intimate-partner relationships.

Queensland Theatre’s Gaslight is at the Playhouse Theatre, QPAC, Brisbane until 3 March 2024

Vicki Englund

Other reviews you might enjoy: