Set to be one of the most talked about performances of 2024, Gaslight, a modern adaptation of the 1938 suspenseful thriller by Patrick Hamilton and starring Kate Fitzpatrick, Geraldine Hakewill and Toby Schmitz, is set to premiere in Brisbane as part of the 2024 Queensland Theatre season before coming to Melbourne and then the rest of the country.
Hamilton’s play is a dark tale of a marriage based on deceit and trickery, and a husband committed to driving his wife insane in order to steal from her.
In many ways a simple premise but, nonetheless, as compelling today as it was when the show premiered at the Richmond Theatre in London on 5 December 1938 before transferring to the Apollo Theatre in the West End on 1 January 1939.
For actor Kate Fitzpatrick, it is, llike the old days, a great story with a great director, terrific cast and the bonus of a national commercial tour of a straight play.
” Rodney Rigby (producer) is brave and very clever, ” says Fitzpatrick. “I think audiences will love seeing an ‘old fashioned’ real play. No music. No special effects. Not dazzle. Just a great story and characters. Real theatre. No disguise. But beautiful costumes and set.”
The story follows Bella Manningham, a young wife who seemingly has it all – a nice home and a comfortable upper-middle class life. Her housekeepers, Elizabeth and Nancy, attend to her and help run the household. Her husband, Jack, appears attentive and loving. So why is Bella on edge? As we learn more about the Manningham household, it becomes clear that something is amiss. Despite his doting appearance, Jack is hiding something – he keeps disappearing in the evenings …and after he leaves, Bella hears strange sounds in the house. The gas lights dim for no apparent reason. Is Bella losing her grip on reality? Or is something more sinister afoot?
Fitzpatrick plays Elizabeth, the housekeeper who has been living in the house since she was a young girl. She was lucky to have been taken in by a very benevolent mistress. She is a genuine Victorian servant, who has not known any other life. Fitzpatrick describes her as strong, loyal, discrete, a little suppressed – she knows her place – but intelligent and fearless when it comes to right and wrong. Elizabeth has lived in the house for 50 years and although it has never been her house, she feels responsible. She is the caretaker when the play begins.
A play over 80 years old, Hamilton’s Gaslight is still addictive, drawing in audiences around the world. “It’s exciting, misleading, intense, mysterious and very entertaining,” says Fitzpatrick about its ability to put bums on seats.
The play is a potent examination of psychological and emotional violence, beginning with the isolation of Bella from her family and friends, and the mind games that cause her to question her own sanity. Fitzpatrick explains that lying, manipulation, psychological abuse, love, romance, sex, delusion, murder, theft, violence, regret, revenge, forgiveness (maybe), excitement, beauty, and a little humour are all present in Hamilton’s complex script.
A much-used word in modern society, ‘gaslighting’ – psychologically manipulating people into questioning their own sanity – draws its origins from the play ( although it does not appear in any of the stageplays or screenplays), in which the household’s gas lights flicker and dim on the evenings when Bella is alone, causing her to question her own sanity.
This production has been adapted by respected Canadian writers and performers Patty Jamieson and Johnna Wright and world premiered at the internationally renowned Shaw Festival in Canada in 2022. But, says Fitzpatrick, fans of the original play can expect the same thrills and spills but with a wonderful contemporary twist, which makes it more accessible and acceptable.
Fitzpatrick’s long, varied and award-winning career began on our sets in 1967 in Bellbird and, lucky for us, has not diminished. She has enjoyed the kind of longevity that many actors aspire to in the fickle industry known as show business. For Fitzpatrick, the fire in the belly burns as fiercely as ever as she confirms her love for craft and performance.
“I love acting. Inhabiting other people. Wearing someone else’s clothing. Doing, saying, feeling things I may never do in real life.”
Fitzpatrick has played so many different characters it’s hard for her to pick a favourite.
Says Fitzpatrick, “Rex Cramphorne (freelance director and theatre critic) once said I had played everything for him from:
A 13-year-old virgin (Junie in Britannicus);
A movie star (Marilyn Monroe in Insignificance);
A fake French, actually Irish, English teaching Parisian, whore/dictator’s wife in Visions;
A French courtesan in The Lady of the Camilias;
A suburban piano teacher, dying of brain cancer in Spring Song;
The junkie, asthmatic, suicidal daughter of a diplomat, working as a school uniformed stripper, in Unsuitable For Adults;
Lots of Molière, Shakespeare, experimental theatre, and new Aussie plays;
Just before he died, he said, ‘you’ve never played a man for me’ and cast me as Don Juan. I miss him every day. I have been very lucky.”
Gaslight is a suspenseful thriller which promises to keep you on the edge of your seat.
Says Fitzpatrick, “Buy a ticket. Come. You will not regret it. I love what I am seeing in the rehearsal room so much, I wish I could be in the audience. Do yourself a favour. 💜”
On tour till September 15, 2024
For more details: https://gaslightplay.com.au/