State Theatre Company South Australia
4-19th Sep 2020.
Review by Sarah List
Although the term has been in vernacular since the 1960s, ‘gaslighting’ has really come to the fore in the last couple of years, and it is a fascinating choice of inaugural production at the new (and incredibly beautiful) Her Majesty’s Theatre, courtesy of the State Theatre Company South Australia.
Despite its Victorian setting, Gaslight first premiered in 1938 as a product of the writing of Patrick Hamilton. Hamilton believed our most dangerous enemies are the people close to us. Set in a time where married women were more property than people, we meet Bella (Ksenja Logos) on the edge of confected madness at the hands of her husband Jack (Nathan O’Keefe). Through dimming of the house gaslights, and the inexplicable vanishing of objects left to Bella’s care, Jack has manipulated her into believing she is weak minded and careless. She is terrified of his treats to send her to the insane asylum. Jack flirts with the hired help and spends nights out in the company of other women, apparently driven from home by Bella’s behaviour. Bella is desperate to win his approval back (without realizing she can never come out on top) and prostrates herself at every opportunity. The arrival one evening of a mysterious stranger (Eileen Darley as Inspector Rough) turns Bella’s world further on its head and tantalizes as an opportunity to at last make sense of her madness.
Lavishly staged and costumed, this revival of Gaslight speaks to the experiences of women that continue to occur today. While women generally have more freedom, married women, particularly with children, are very much still in a corner when it comes to finances due to their primary care roles that sap their financial independence and often self-image too. While there are some narrative flaws in the story (such as the absolute dependence on Inspector Rough’s word regarding the events leading to Bella’s madness), Gaslight chills you in a way that’s almost uncomfortable to watch, as we recognise the stories of so many women in the media who were unable to escape their relationships with their lives.