Gaslight – Theatre Review

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Co-produced by Marriner Group and Queensland Theatre, director Lee Lewis brings Johnna Wright and Patty Jamieson’s adaptation of Gaslight to Melbourne’s Comedy Theatre. Starring Geraldine Hakewell and Toby Schmitz with support from Kate Fitzpatrick and Courtney Cavallaro, Gaslight is a dark tale of deception, marriage, and madness.

In the late 1800s, Jack and Bella Mannginham have recently moved into a beautiful house in the heart of London. The house used to belong to a wealthy spinster, Alice Barlow, who was murdered in the home in a botched robbery. The couple is from the upper-middle class, newly married, their home filled with beautiful furniture and their clothes are tailor made, but Bella is nervous, unable to sit still and under the belief that there is an unwelcome presence in the house. Jack, presents as a loving, doting husband concerned for his wife’s safety and well-being, but something sinister simmers just below the surface. As the story unfolds, a web of mystery, deceit, and manipulation is slowly uncovered leading the audience to question: Is this marriage or madness?

Adapted from Patrick Hamilton’s 1938 play of the same name, Gaslight stars Kate Fitzpatrick and Toby Schmitz as Bella and Jack Manningham, and is directed by Lee Lewis, artistic director of Queensland Theatre. Exploring themes of greed, manipulation, and mental decline, the play takes place entirely within one room, the sitting room of the Manningham’s London home.

The set and costumes, designed by award winning designer Renee Mulder, are impeccably constructed to portray Jack and Bella’s status in London society; Bella wears a modest yet beautiful dress in a soft colour palette while Jack is always dressed in the customary three-piece suit of the times in a grey check. The sitting room is warm, full of plush seating and rich wooden furniture. Among the artworks on the wall is a portrait of Alice Barlow that is constantly in glow, filling the room with an eerie, supernatural aura.

Because the play is set in a single room, the production crew uses lighting to smoothly transition between day to night and back again. It’s one of the most expertly executed transitions that I’ve ever seen on stage, never once stunting the progression of the story, and the cast weave in and out of the set seamlessly from one entry point to another, sometimes sporting a quick costume change that alluded to off-stage events, and the way they moved around each other gave the impression that the room was much larger than what the audience could see.

Fitzpatrick and Schmitz are a real tour de force on the stage, especially Fitzpatrick who, as the fraught Bella, was the story’s key story driver. The way she embodied the character is unlike anything I’ve seen from a stage actress before, the way she would occasionally break the 4th wall with subtlety would instantly illicit giggles without it feeling too disjointed or distracting from the story. Schmitz, at once handsome and sleazy, somehow bounces between endearingly boyish, caring, silly, and suspicious with incredible ease. Watching Schmitz and Fitzpatrick play against each other is riveting, a mental cat and mouse game that is thrilling from beginning to end.

An engaging, all-encompassing performance, Gaslight invites audiences to question reality, the extents some people go to in order to conceal their lies and uncover the secrets of the Manningham house before the story reaches its climax. Catch Gaslight before it leaves the Comedy Theatre on March 24. This show is a must-see for all.
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Photography by Brett Boardman.

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