The house lights dim. The stage lights go up. On stage are a man and a woman; she’s sewing, he’s napping. She stop sewing, he stops sleeping; they talk. It’s at this moment of talking that I am hit with a wave of nostalgia; I haven’t seen a play – a solid, lengthy talkie in a large, traditional, proscenium arch setting for months (granted I haven’t got out much lately), and it’s wonderful. I am immediately excited.
Gaslight is a slow-building suspenseful whodunnit that undermines your plot predictions with moments of tension you didn’t see coming. The dialogue is plentiful, the actors are few, and even though the action is minimal, your attention is still rapt. It’s fun.
The two male leads, Owen Teale and Ian McElhinney, who are both series regulars on HBO’s “Game of Thrones” and whose faces have been plastered citywide in an aggressive marketing campaign (no complaints – I wish all theatres could advertise as much), live up to their hype. They not only memorized a novel’s worth of dialogue, they owned their roles with great precision and fluidity. At once point, McElhinney, skipped ahead in a scene, realized his mistake, stopped himself, retraced his steps and began again at the rightful place. It all happened within approximately 7 seconds and increased my respect for his talent tenfold. It was like a mini-masterclass in acting.
The set is gorgeous – pay particular attention to the ceiling, it really complimented the design and the play itself. The sound and lighting design both support the building momentum of anxiety.
My only beef lies with the female lead of Mrs. Manningham. Flora Montgomery commands attention on stage and is formidable in her role. She’s clearly a fine actor. My beef is with the character Mrs. Manningham and frankly, how pathetic she is. Gaslight was written in 1938 so, perhaps, women weren’t commonly as self-assured they are now, and yes, I understand that for a major plot line to exist, Mrs. Manningham needs to be a fragile flower, but in my opinion, she was too easy for the men to control; too hysterical all the time. Even when she finally had a triumphant moment of speaking her mind, it was negated in the next scene by McElhinney’s character treating her like a infant. Admittedly, it’s a personal bias, but one that I found difficult to overlook.
But despite Mrs. Manningham’s mischaracterization, Gaslight is simply, good old-fashioned play, with a strong story and actors to carry it through. It’s grand.
Photo: (L-R) Ian McElhinney, Flora Montgomery and Owen Teale in GASLIGHT © 2016, Cylla von Tiedemann