Her Majesty’s Theatre, Tue 8 Sep, 2020.
Prompt and friendly COVID marshals ushered us into the new Her Majesty’s Theatre and quietly suggested where we might wait for show time. I wanted to zip around the new foyers and see some of the new layout but the tentative pressure of social distancing wouldn’t allow it. Instead I just appreciated the fact that I was in the uncrowded foyer of Her Majesty’s and not fighting my way through crowds as in the past.
Inside every second seat was badged a COVID-19 free seat so it felt quite comfortable and roomy, and from the moment Eileen Darley began singing Music Hall fashion out front of the curtain I just happily sank back into my comfortable chair and relished being back enjoying live theatre.
The curtain rises on a somewhat cluttered and dowdy upstairs living room somewhere in London in the late 19th Century. The wonderful set for Gaslight contained a feast of period detail – not the least were several gas lamps of the time that would serve as a continuing metaphor throughout the show. The dissembling dialogue is laced with that irritating tone of over-politeness characteristic of the time, and is reminiscent of the comedy of manners genre.
We meet the ever-so-charming Mr Jack Manningham (Nathan O’Keefe) as he appears to harmlessly chat with his out-of-sorts wife Bella (Ksenja Logos). Bella thinks she is losing her mind (things go missing and there are too many things she just can’t remember) and her seemingly caring husband does little to make her think otherwise. It quickly becomes apparent that the charming Jack is a pushy chauvinist who likes to get his own way – but is oh so nice about it.
Fortunately for Bella a dedicated police officer by the name of Inspector Rough (Eileen Darley), who has been watching Jack’s coming and goings for twenty years, will help release her from a sad fate that she is not yet fully aware of. Jack thinks he is in total control of his own domain and Nathan O’Keefe is chillingly effective in his portrayal of this sociopathic bully.
The cockily cheeky young maid (played by Katherine Sortini) challenges his male libido in a teasing attempt at seduction and represents a new breed of servant who refuses to kowtow to their male employers, while the older and loyal Elizabeth (Ellen Freeman) helps to save her mistress. With little effort, Freeman delightfully steals more than her fair share of chuckles throughout the performance.
In time Bella gets her long-deserved chance to turn the tables on her tormentor, leaving Jack wondering about his own sanity and brings the play to a funny and satisfying conclusion.
In part Gaslight is a statement about a subtle form of psychological abuse long employed by men over women that they believe they have the right to control. Playwright Patrick Hamilton deemed this issue to be worthy of the dramatic spotlight in 1938. Sadly it is still an ongoing problem in society.
Take yourself back to the beautiful Maj and enjoy the thrill of sitting within her newly-expanded walls and watching live theatre again… in a real theatre!
Note: Due to popular demand an extra performance of Gaslight has been added from 2pm on Sat 19 Mar.
Michael Coghlan (with added words by Catherine Blanch)
Gaslight continues at Her Majesty’s Theatre, at various times, until Sat 19 Sep.
Book at BASS on 131 246 and bass.net.au. Click HERE to purchase your tickets.
Written by Patrick Hamilton
Directed by Catherine Fitzgerald
Presented by State Theatre Company South Australia
Images courtesy of Chris Herzfeld
Includes 20 minute interval