Gaslighting: Messing with Your Mind

Set in Victorian England, the play Gaslight is a study in the evil practise of mind manipulation.  Currently on stage at the Ed Mirvish Theatre in Toronto, it remains a captivating thriller, but occasionally shows its age.

Mr. and Mrs. Manningham are newlyweds living in an old home he purchased with her money.  He is a cruel and manipulative person, pretending to be sympathetic with her forgetfulness, then suddenly becoming angry and condescending.  She believes she is losing her mind, as she falls under his control.  But Inspector Rough arrives with information that keeps her from becoming completely unravelled.gaslight

Owen Teale is well-cast as the devious Mr. Manningham, contrasting perfectly with Ian McElhinney’s jovial Inspector Rough.  Flora Montgomery has captured Mrs. Manningham’s battle for sanity and her desire to please.

Some theatre-goers will be impressed with the star power of this cast.  Both Teale and McElhinney are well-known for their roles in the popular TV series Game of Thrones.

The play, written in 1938, is dated. The action in the first act seems slow, and some of the vocabulary no longer works. Mr. Manningham feigns he is stressed and announces he is going out.  The Toronto audience laughs when he says “I’m going to try to be a little gay.” In addition, today’s audiences have come to expect more of a guessing game when watching a thriller, and are on the lookout for red herrings.  Gaslight’s plot is straight forward and lacks the twist in the tale that today’s audiences have come to expect in a mystery.

But despite these throwbacks, Gaslight remains a thought-provoking look at human manipulation, bullying, and mental harassment.  The term “gaslighting” meaning messing with someone’s mind, comes from this show.

Coincidentally, the same weekend that Gaslight opened in Toronto, Saturday Night Live presented a sketch where there were many laughs at descriptions of extreme gaslighting.  In the sketch, students in a classroom were having an Awareness Seminar on what they called Social Puppeteering.  Guest speakers talked about renting an airport hangar, and building a giant-sized replica of their home’s interior to fool siblings into thinking they were only two inches tall à la “Honey I Shrunk the Kids”.   One can appreciate the contrast between the evil found in Gaslight and the hilarity of the comedy sketch.

Gaslight continues with eight shows a week at Ed Mirvish Theatre until February 28.  Call Ticket King 416-872-1212 or 1-800-461-3333 or visit for tickets.

Photo: Inspector Rough (Ian McElhinney), Mrs. Manningham (Flora Montgomery) and Owen Teale (Mr. Manningham) in Gaslight.  Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann.

By Patrick Hamilton
Directed by David Gilmore
Performed by Owen Teale, Ian McElhinney, Flora Montgomery, Emily Head, Victoria Lennox, David Haydn, Dermot McLaughlin.
Produced by Paul Elliott with David Mirvish
Ed Mirvish Theatre, Toronto
January 17 to February 28, 2016
Reviewed by Mary Alderson



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