Back in 2013, Vertigo Theatre put on Gaslight, by Patrick Hamilton. This play is where the psychological term ‘gaslighting’ originated, referring to the practice of emotional abuse that makes people think they are losing their sanity. Now, Vertigo Theatre is putting on a new adaptation by Johnna Wright and Patty Jamieson based on the original play by Patrick Hamilton. This new adaptation is still very similar to the original, but in this version Bella must rely on herself to investigate the mystery, instead of having a police inspector resolve the mystery for her.
This play, in its original version has had tremendous success, with two film adaptations and run on Broadway, the American 1944 version of the film was nominated for 7 Oscars and won Ingrid Bergman an award in the best actress category. It seems like a slam dunk pick for incoming Artistic Director Jack Grinhaus to direct as his debut.
The play is set on Angel Street, in London, UK, in the early 1900s. Bella (Kelsey Verzotti) lives with her husband Jack (Braden Griffiths) in a big manor with Elizabeth (Valerie Planche) the maid. Jack has recently hired a new maid, Nancy (Hailey Christie-Hoyle), but it’s questionable as to whether she does a whole lot of work. Jack leaves in the evenings for a long period of time and Bella starts to think she’s losing her mind because she appears to be moving a painting or losing her mother’s pearl necklaces without conscious thought. Jack is constantly telling her to rest.
Andy Moro’s set design is complex, with plush furniture and hallways and a staircase that leads to more floors, one presumes. The bell that calls the staff is a curtain that is pulled, which doesn’t really line up with logic. Alexandra Prichard’s lighting design and Alixandra Cowman’s sound design are critical in creating a grimness to the production and at times they both feel a bit over the top and that’s due to Grinhaus’ direction.
Griffiths is measured as Jack and his facial expression alludes to him quietly plotting. His interactions with Nancy are so inappropriate, without him really doing anything onstage. Verzotti is a solid Bella, illustrating her torture without going over the top.
Here’s the thing about Gaslight. It isn’t a mystery, as everything is revealed in the first act. It isn’t a thriller, because there isn’t much action in the play. It’s all about Bella torment and self doubt, which means that Jack has to be terrifying. You have to fear for Bella’s life and you have to feel her torture acutely.
Under Grinhaus’ direction, this production of Gaslight doesn’t quite get there. Griffiths is menacing, and could get to terrifying, but misses the mark. Bella is scared, but I’m not quite sure she fully believes that her life is on the line. The audience isn’t immersed, which takes away from the experience. There is a decision that in between scenes there is a quiet in between scene, where Verzotti stands at the centre of the stage and Griffiths removes her coat, or puts on her robe. It results in the audiences disconnecting from the narrative even more.
Vertigo Theatre’s Gaslight features some strong performances but ultimately has some weak choices in direction and isn’t an edge of your seat thriller.
Vertigo Theatre’s Gaslight runs until April 16th. More information is available online.
Photo: Kelsey Verzotti & Braden Griffiths. Credit: Tim Nguyen.