Feb 13

The Gaslight Dims and Deception Begins – Vertigo Theatre’s Gaslight is a tale of psychological terror

by Downtown Calgary · 1 comment


This is a post by guest blogger Brandon Beasley. He’s an arts & culture junky living in Calgary. If you’re interested in blogging for GetDown, learn how here.

Since the debut of playwright Patrick Hamilton’s Gaslight in the late 1930s, ‘gaslighting’ has described a type of psychological abuse in which a victim is lied to and tricked to make them question their sanity. In Vertigo Theatre’s current production of the play, deftly directed by Christopher Newton (founder of Theatre Calgary), that psychological deception envelops everything, including the audience. We wonder: are we being toyed with as well?

Such is the atmosphere of paranoia created by the troubles of the Manninghams, a well-to-do Victorian husband and wife. It appears as if Bella Manningham (Anna Cummer) is not a well woman, on the verge of losing her sanity like her mother before her. Her husband, Jack (Patrick McManus), seems a patient if slightly unnerving man, worn down by his wife’s troubles.

And yet there is a hint of menace.

At one point Mr Manningham grabs his wife, holding his hand over her mouth to silence her manic chatter, speaking to her forcefully. It is at this point that we start to question whether this is a man at the end of his rope or a man just waiting to tighten the noose around his wife’s neck. Are the trinkets and household items that have gone missing really the result of his wife’s madness, or is something else going on?

When a man walks through the door halfway through the first act, announcing himself as Rough (Christopher Hunt), a retired police detective with startling information for Bella Manningham, we want to believe him. But the play has made us so paranoid that we wonder: could it be Rough who is the real threat? Is this just more gaslighting? Reality and deception begin to blur.

As the play unfolds, it seems that Bella may not be going mad after all. But that leaves us wondering what is really going on, and what a more than decade-old unsolved murder has to do with it. The answer lies with the dimming of the gaslight.

As usual for Vertigo, the production design is immaculate. Narda McCarroll’s gorgeous set sets the late nineteenth-century mood just right, and Deitra Kalyn’s costuming is stitch-perfect. They lend the production a realism which heightens the tension that pervades this Victorian thriller.

The performances are just as perfect. Cummer adeptly handles a role that in lesser hands could be overwrought or annoying; indeed, she gets the audience on her side. McManus has gravitas and a dominating stage presence as Jack Manningham, with a capricious edge. And Vertigo regular Hunt as the impish Inspector Rough is a much-needed dose of lightness in this tale of torture.

Soaked in tension, the intensity on stage builds to a triumphant climax that shatters all deception and shines the gaslight brightly on the ugly truth. And after such vicious psychological deception, a sweet triumph it is.

Gaslight plays at Vertigo Theatre until February 24th. Tickets and information are available online. 4 stars out of 5.


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