Theatre Review: Gaslight

Patrick Hamilton’s psychological thriller still holds up well today


Presented by State Theatre Company South Australia

Reviewed 8th September 2020

Ah, but it’s good to be back in the theatre. The first night of The State Theatre Company of South Australia’s Gaslight at the newly refurbished Her Majesty’s Theatre was a very welcome and memorable event. I talked with my date for the night, I did marry her a while ago but we like to keep life interesting, that this would be the first time we had been back into a theatre since March of this year. It’s been a long time between jobs for all our theatre workers in front of, on and behind the stage. It was a glittering night both on and off stage. It is difficult to make an audience feel comfortable with our current social distancing but from the COVID Marshall with the flamenco sleeves to the always pleasant and welcoming front of house staff, the arduous job of seating close to a thousand people felt normal and went off without a hitch.

The play is a period gem. Patrick Hamilton’s psychological thriller still holds up well today and this talented cast breathed life into the old girl from the moments the lights went down. Catherine Fitzgerald knows just how to capture an era and immerse you in it to start the storytelling. The use of the music hall number to start the show with Eileen Darley showing her immense versatility in a rendition of a Vesta Tilly song was a stroke of genius. It was witty, appropriate and caught the audience off guard and from there we were taken on a storybook journey into the play that was unrelenting in its journey through to an exciting climax.

Ksenja Logos’ waif like portrayal of Bella Manningham was captivating. The relentless pressure she has to endure for most of the action elicits great sympathy from the audience and when she finds her feet we all give a silent and heartfelt cheer. Some clear and sensitive acting. The passive/aggressive side of her husband Jack played by Nathan O’Keefe with great elan makes his character thoroughly dislikeable and devastatingly dastardly to watch. He grows more and more into the purpose of the role as the play progresses and we find ourselves thoroughly caught up in his evil plan.

From the moment Eileen Darley enters the room in the first act she threatens to steal the show. Her Inspector Rough is subtle, charming, clever and manipulative. Darley struts and postures around the stage with a complete understanding of the style and nuance required to make this character an audience favourite. Thoroughly enjoyable every moment she was on stage.

They say there is no such thing as a small part and Ellen Freeman and Katherine Sortini proved this in their perfectly drawn roles as Elizabeth and Nancy respectively.  If Freeman’s Elizabeth had any more granite in its characterisation you could have cut yourself on her angular cheekbones. Sortini, on the other hand, gave a very passionate and flirtatious read of Nancy which came as a very pleasant surprise as she challenged Jack Manningham in a power struggle that sees the two of them manipulating a situation to their own advantage.

Alisa Paterson’s costumes were era perfect and the colours complemented the set which had a wonderful feel of the era which lit beautifully. Nic Mollison’s lighting design moved the action forward and added to the tension of this really engaging first production of the glittering gem that is Her Majesty’s Theatre.

Catherine Fitzgerald has directed a very engaging, clever and subtly nuanced piece of work from Patrick Hamilton’s timeless story of abusive manipulation for personal gain.

A final special mention for the moment of the night. When the London police force proved it was the birthplace of the Keystone cops.

Review by Adrian Barnes

Rating out of 5: 5

Venue:  Her Majesty’s Theatre, 58 Grote St, Adelaide

Season: 4th – 19th September 2020

Duration:  Approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes (including an interval)

Tickets: Please note that most sessions are SOLD OUT. However, there are still seats left for Sat 12 Sept 2pm (Audio Described Auslan), Mon 14 Sept 6.30pm (Audio Described) and Sat 19 Sept 2pm


Photo Credit: Chris Herzfeld


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