No garish music, no strained singing, no awkward dancing … welcome to theatre. Real theatre.

Queensland Theatre has gone back to the future with its first production for the year, teaming up with producer Rodney Rigby to deliver theatre as some of us like it.  Old school. For a new era.

Gaslight is a modern adaptation of the 1940s suspenseful thriller, famous for the movie starring Charles Boyer, Ingrid Bergman, Joseph Cotton and Angela Lansbury. I know, amazing cast and a classic film.

This is not the movie though. It is Patrick Hamilton’s original play adapted by Canadian writers and performers Patty Jamieson and Johnna Wright, who have done a terrific job.

It’s still as suspenseful as it should be and it builds slowly but inexorably towards a very dramatic and satisfying conclusion.

Directed by QT’s Lee Lewis, it stars a fabulous cast of four with Geraldine Hakewill as Bella and Toby Schmitz as her controlling husband, Jack. The two rather odd maids are played by Kate Fitzpatrick as Elizabeth and Courtney Cavallaro as Nancy.

It’s a four-hander set in London in 1901 in a gracious old house where there has been a murder.

Of course, as with the original, Jack is trying to convince Bella that she is going crazy in this place. His controlling nature and her helplessness are, at first, frustrating.

There’s a mystery here about what is actually going on and in the original play it’s a policeman who solves the mystery, which left me wondering how it would be resolved in this version?

The answer is, logically and cleverly in the end with a bit of Sherlock Holmes deduction.

It unravels slowly, which I love. This is slow theatre, like slow food or slow travel. You have to sit and listen, paying close attention.

Nobody in the audience screamed or hooted on opening night in the Playhouse at QPAC. This is not a musical in the Lyric Theatre after all. This is for an audience other than that sort of audience.

The performances are measured and understated at times. Kate Fitzpatrick is delightfully idiosyncratic as the all-seeing Elizabeth who doesn’t say much but knows all. Fitzpatrick is Australian theatre royalty, not to mention our first female cricket commentator (look that up) and it’s lovely to have her on the stage here.  Yes, I know she’s not a Queenslander but she’s a great actor,  which is the point. And she’s a star who will attract the punters.

Courtney Cavallaro’s performance as Nancy is equally eccentric. These two are quite nutty, actually, which is fun. And despite the tension,  there is humour.

Geraldine Hakewill is every bit the turn-of-the-century English lady, and Toby Schimtz is a boorish cad who claims to go to his club each night when he’s really ratting about in the attic looking for something and trying to drive his wife crazy in the process.

He is the model of coercive control as he tries to “gaslight” his wife, a term that has strangely come into popular common usage recently, although it has been around for decades.

And, yes, they did have gaslight in the streets and homes at the time of the play.

The set and costumes are fantastic,  thanks to Renee Mulder. Paul Jackson’s lighting is important and punctuates scenes and the music and sound design by Paul Charlier is suitably non-intrusive.

Lee Lewis masterfully directs this play like a game of chess. It’s slow to unravel but therein lies the beauty. It’s a satisfying night in the theatre and while it does address some contemporary issues it is not strained or contrived. And it’s not overlong at two hours and 15 minutes including interval. I never looked at my watch once. Okay, once, but that was it.

Gaslight continues at the Playhouse, QPAC, until March 3, then tours nationally

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