Gaslight

Manipulating Madness

Reviewed by Mary Alderson

The production of Gaslight, now on stage at the Royal George Theatre in Niagara-on-the-Lake should make the Shaw Festival very proud. One of their own, actor and playwright Patty Jamieson along with Johnna Wright, has created a new version of Gaslight.

Originally written in 1938, the play was dated and slow. The new Gaslight has fewer characters but they are now more interesting.

The plot remains the same. Young newlyweds are living in an old house in 1880’s England. She seems to be losing her mind – art on the wall is missing and she can’t explain why she took it down, her mother’s pearls disappear, and she hears inexplicable noises in the night. He seems kind, being gentle and caring with her, but still reminding her that her mother ended up in an insane asylum.

Of course, this is where the term gaslighting came from – the idea of lying, bullying and harassing someone into thinking they are losing their sanity.

In this new version, we aren’t sure if Bella, the young bride, is the subject of gaslighting or not. Her husband, Jack seems to really care about her. In fact, I actually heard gasps from the audience when the truth is revealed. And that’s all I can explain, for fear of spoiling it.

The main difference is that the women in this new version are stronger. Bella and the long time housekeeper, Elizabeth, are able to handle the situation. Even the new servant, Nancy, is tough, and has the nerve to flirt with the master of the house. The detective in the old version was cut completely, making it more a story of solid women.

Julie Lumsden gives us a Bella who is depressed and suicidal, yet finds the strength to carry on. The always-brilliant Kate Hennig is a sensible Elizabeth who grows and finds her way. Julie Course’s Nancy has just the right amount of cheekiness. André Morin is perfect as the haughty, condescending Jack, who is just nice enough to keep us guessing as to his motives.

The costumes and set take the audience back to the Victorian era – heavy drapes in a dark gas-lit room, but at the same time a luminous scene on the wall adds to the eeriness.

This play is a study in human manipulation, but at the same time, it’s presented as a thriller. Audience members unfamiliar with the story were enthralled as events unfolded. The outcome is not as obvious as it was in the old version.

Credit goes to director Kelli Fox for keeping the intent of the original play while improving the pace. (A side note: Ms. Fox is the sister of actor Michael J. Fox)

If you’ve never seen Gaslight, then I’m sure you will enjoy this mystery. If you have seen it in the past, then you will appreciate this new take.

Gaslight continues in repertory at Royal George Theatre, The Shaw Festival, Niagara-on-the-Lake until October 9. For tickets, visit www.shawfest.com  or call 1-800-511-SHAW(7429).

Photo: Julie Lumsden as Bella, Julia Course as Nancy, Kate Hennig as Elizabeth, André Morin as Jack. Photo by David Cooper.

Gaslight
By Johnna Wright and Patty Jamieson
Based on the play Angel Street by Patrick Hamilton
Directed by Kelli Fox
Performed by Julie Lumsden, André Morin, Kate Hennig, Julia Course.
Shaw Festival Production
Royal George Theatre, Niagara-on-the-Lake
May 4 to October 9, 2022
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

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