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Review: Gaslight at The Comedy Theatre

Review by Emily White

Based on the 1938 play by Patrick Hamilton (and 1944 film adaptation) from which we get the term “gaslighting”, Queensland Theatre has brought a new adaptation by Canadian writers Johnna Wright and Patty Jamieson. Directed by Lee Lewis, Gaslight is a refreshing take on the classic noir tale of psychological abuse in what is ultimately an uplifting exploration of women’s agency. 

The historical setting allows the audience to draw comparisons to our own context, a subtle way to probe at the question of women’s supposed advancement in society — if women have made such progress in the last century towards equality of power dynamics in heterosexual relationships, why is the concept of gaslighting so prevalent today?

The show uses Gothic elements to strike a delicate balance between spooky and feel-good. The creepy vibes, heightened by thunderstorms and one well-timed jump-scare, make for a much more fun experience than I was expecting from a show about domestic abuse.

The set design by Renée Mulder compliments this further — the angular house feels imposing, like it’s closing in on you. Mulder deserves further praise as designer of a suite of costumes that present striking Victorian silhouettes with an attention to detail that will draw your eye in every scene. 

The small cast carried the show with strong characterisation, although the pacing of the dialogue was not always as tight as the writing called for. Similarly, the fight choreography had a hesitancy that left the final confrontation a little lukewarm. 

Geraldine Hakewill did well as Bella, a character whose almost permanent disposition is “quite upset”. She displayed an impressive emotional stamina as well as a playfulness with the character  that complimented the story’s use of dramatic irony. 

Toby Schmitz as Jack nailed the cold exterior of a villain hiding in plain sight with a simmering madman underneath. The cracks start to appear in the character’s facade when the tables turn against him, but as the villain in a Gothic tale of deception and abuse, Schmitz could have gone further with the character’s demise and final descent into an ironic state of madness. 

Kate Fitzpatrick as the housekeeper Elizabeth brought a deadpan humour that also complimented the Gothic side of the story. Every line was delivered with precision and unsettling depth. 

Courtney Cavallaro stole every scene in which she appeared as the young maid Nancy. The strength of her physical characterisation was such that we knew exactly what kind of disruptive energy she would be bringing right from her very first entrance. It was so captivating just to watch her walk into the room, and so satisfying to watch her let loose. 

Wright and Jamieson’s adaptation does well to engage an audience who are already familiar with the concept of gaslighting in a way that the original story’s audience was not. For a modern audience, the question is not whether these strange things are really happening, the question is why. 

Gaslight is an exhilarating mystery that will leave you with a strong taste of “good for her” in your mouth.

Image Supplied


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