Printable CopyGASLIGHT
The State Theatre Company of South Australia
Her Majesty’s Theatre
Until 19 Sep 2020

Review by John Wells

What is that heady scent wafting on the evening breeze? Curiosity? Bewilderment? Optimism? And delight and excitement; a smiling happiness to be at the theatre. It might be a bit different – we wait patiently in line (one-and-a-half metres apart, of course), we slather ourselves in hand sanitising goo, we sit with seats in between us, and we don’t knock back a gin and tonic at interval – but we are at the theatre. And at the magnificent, opulently refurbished Her Maj, no less.

We might also be able to sniff the strong smell of ham. There is plenty of deliciously hammy carry-on going on on stage. “Gaslight” (written in 1938) might once have been a taut psychological thriller, but this production is an almost vaudevillian melodrama. Catherine Fitzgerald’s direction is tonally perfect: funny, light and bending arch-camp style towards over-acting, but remaining emotionally grounded. Her direction gives the play a rollicking sense of fun and momentum. On the fringes, there are tweaks and nods giving a bit of feminist layering, but this is largely a piece of entertainment.

The cast bounds around the stage with energy and commitment. Nathan O’Keefe, the controlling husband Jack Manningham, is a compelling combination of oleaginous pomposity and crafty, nasty deception. Ksenja Logos, his frightened, vulnerable wife Bella, gives a lovely performance full of skittish, uncertainty which grows into determined steeliness. The play’s best moments feature Eileen Darley, the gender-swapped Inspector Rough. She is the truth-telling, wise interloper. The production’s post-modern touches work well here: the female detective dissolves the haughty paternalism of the role and creates a charming sense of feminine teamwork and solidarity. Katherine Sortini gives excellent support as the self-possessed and opportunistic maid Nancy.

Nic Mollison’s appropriately amber lighting complements Ailsa Paterson’s detailed and beautifully dressed set.

This is not ground-breaking theatre, but “Gaslight” is polished, diverting and great fun. What a lovely, embracing welcome back to the theatre.