Stage Centre Productions presents the thriller Gaslight at Fairview Library in Toronto
The stage at Fairview Library Theatre is adorned with luxuries of a Victorian home in London. Portraits line the walls, a grand piano sits by the window, and gaslights are in every corner of the room. It’s a peaceful scene, but I know the peace won’t last long. This production of Gaslight is an adaptation by David Jacklin of the dark thriller written by Patrick Hamilton. I sit in my row, and wait for the peace to be broken.
Gaslight is about Mrs. Manningham, who is convinced she is going mad, just like her mother. She fears being sent to a sanitarium, and pleads with her husband to be patient with her affliction. One night, after her husband leaves the house, an unknown visitor drops by to see Mrs. Manningham. The visitor is an ex-detective, going by the name of Rough, who tells her that her husband is more dangerous than he seems. Rough believes that Mrs. Manningham isn’t mad at all. Her husband has tricked her into doubting her sanity, and Rough is convinced that he is guilty of much worse.
Gaslight has the essential elements of a thriller: mystery, murder, scandal. The play also adds to the tension with Mr. and Mrs. Manningham’s abusive relationship. The abuse that Mrs. Manningham experiences doesn’t begin as physical but it does escalate. The abuse begins as something more insidious.
Mr. Manningham clearly manipulates Mrs. Manningham. He humiliates her and brushes off her feelings. He gives her the impression that he is the victim in the relationship. He suffers because of her, and she should be thankful for his patience. He is quiet and proper when he speaks to her, but I feel every line like he’s slapping her.
Lawrence Stevenson as Mr. Manningham is utterly repulsive, which in this case, is a compliment. Stevenson plays Mr. Manningham as someone who hides their monstrous behaviour behind the veil of primness. There is danger lurking behind every comment, like he’s just dying to strangle whoever he’s talking to. Stevenson is perfectly detestable.
Hanna Peltoniemi-Fam plays Mrs. Manningham in a constant state of hysteria. She’s consistently out of breath, crying out, hanging on to furniture as if she will faint onto the floor. Her reactions are so much more dramatic than everyone around her. It draws attention to her “madness”. She is desperate to be heard. She’s the epitome of a cry for help.
Judy Gans and Jen Hashimoto as the maids Elizabeth and Nancy are good at bringing a little bit of humour to a dark play. The actor that the audience falls in love with right off the bat is Stephen Flett as the ex-detective Rough. Flett is quick, charming, and absolutely delightful to watch. Flett is so convincing as his character, that when he has to hide in the house, at least ten audience members whisper out to him to remember his hat on the table. I, and it seems most of the audience, want Flett to stay as safe as possible.
The actors were great. Director Lorraine Kimsa made sure the show had a steady pace, building everything up to the last possible moment. Of course the set designer Todd Davies and lighting designer David Buffham deserve credit for those scene-stealing gaslights.
I won’t spoil anything, but I will tell you that I was tense until the very end. As a thriller it’s quite, well, thrilling.
- Gaslight is playing until October 10th at the Fairview Library Theatre (35 Fairview Mall Dr. , North York).
- Shows are at 8pm from Wednesday-Saturday, with 2pm matinees on October 4th and 10th.
- Tickets are $30 regular price, and $25 for students/seniors. You can purchase the tickets from the Box Office at 416-299-5557 or online.
Photo of Lawrence Stevenson and Hanna Peltoniemi-Fam courtesy Stage Centre Productions