Review: Gaslight (Mirvish)

Gaslight at Ed Mirvish TheatreMirvish’s Gaslight, now on the Toronto stage, will set hearts racing

Gaslight, playing at the Ed Mirvish Theatre, premiered in London in 1938 and has stood the test of time. It feels old-fashioned in a good way: a traditional, popular, entertaining play. My friend Janet and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

I’m not used to seeing thrillers on stage and wasn’t sure that a play would create the kind of suspense that I associate with a thriller. Gaslight certainly did.

In a nutshell, Mrs Manningham (Flora Montgomery) thinks she’s going mad and is afraid that her husband is going to commit her to an asylum. Mr Manningham (Owen Teale) does all he can to foster her belief in her madness.

One evening when he is out, Inspector Rough (Ian McElhinney), a stranger, visits Mrs Manningham. He tells her that she isn’t mad, but that her husband has tricked her into believing that she is, and has done far worse things and is more dangerous than she can imagine.

I hated Mr Manningham, which is a tribute to Teale’s performance. He’s manipulative, bullying his wife and humiliating her in front of the maids (Emily Head as Nancy and Victoria Lennox as Elizabeth), even going as far as flirting with Nancy in front of her. A horrible man. In a perverse way, Teale’s performance was my favourite.

Janet really liked McElhinney’s Inspector Rough. His character contributed a few lighter moments to the play and his timing was perfect.

Both actors are in the huge HBO hit Game of Thrones, a show I haven’t ever watched. I hadn’t actually registered that when I chose to review Gaslight. I was a bit concerned when I realized that they were television actors. I’m just getting over the last show I saw that had TV actors on stage and I wasn’t looking forward to a repeat of that experience. I needn’t have worried. Both men have extensive stage experience and both were terrific.

The play is set in Victorian London and all the action takes place in a townhouse sitting room. I really liked the set. The walls had crown molding and there was a plaster rosette on the ceiling – actually, it was suspended over the room to suggest the ceiling. Often the small details make a big impression. I loved the way that the walls had smoke marks from the gas lights and from the coal fire. It made the room seem real.

As well as designing the set, David Woodhead designed the costumes which were evocative of the era. The maid’s costumes were adorable. I liked the way that the dresses moved but still looked very starched.

For me, the test of a thriller is how involved I feel, whether I identify with the characters and offer silent advice and warnings. Gaslight qualifies. I found myself silently telling Mrs Manningham to believe Inspector Rough, to stop talking and hurry to her room. I held my breath waiting to see if Rough would remember to take his hat with him when he went to hide in Mr Manningham’s dressing room.

I was literally on the edge of my seat when Manningham decided he needed a new collar and went into the dressing room to get it. When he went a second time to get a tie my heart was racing.

The other thing that heightened the suspense was the ticking clock. I don’t think it ticked all the time but when it did, it was ominous.

I have a couple of small quibbles. I don’t understand why there was smoke coming from Manningham’s dressing room door every once in awhile. I also could have done without the loud eerie music that signaled something bad about to happen. May be it it had been less intrusive, quieter, it would have been ok.

Gaslight doesn’t break any new ground, but it is very entertaining. It would be a great play to take your kids to see, as long as they’re over twelve. Or very mature, if younger than that.

Details:

  • Gaslight is playing at the Ed Mirvish Theatre (244 Victoria Street) until February 28th
  • Performances are Tuesday-Saturday at 8PM with matinees on Wednesday, Saturday & Sunday at 2PM
  • Ticket prices range from $35 to $119
  • Tickets are available online, by phone at 416-872-1212/1-800-461-3333, and at the box office

Photo of Ian McElhinney, Flora Montgomery and Owen Teale by Cylla von Tiedemann