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Gaslight | Thriller Brings Psychological Suspense to Newcastle Stage


gaslight

IMAGES: BRETT BOARDMAN PHOTOGRAPHY


A modern adaptation of the 1940s suspenseful psychological thriller Gaslight is coming to the Civic Theatre stage in June, starring Geraldine Hakewill, Toby Schmitz, Kate Fitzpatrick and rising new star Courtney Cavallaro.


 

Set to be one of the most talked about performances of 2024, the production is brought to us by Rodney Rigby for NewTheatricals (Come From Away, Jersey Boys, Good Night, Oscar on Broadway) and Queensland Theatre.


There’s a lot to love about this production for all sorts of reasons, but perhaps one of the most fascinating things about it is the fact that the term ‘gaslighting’ and its modern interpretations and meanings actually originated in this play, written in 1938 by British novelist and playwright Patrick Hamilton. It is also no accident that highly acclaimed Australian director Lee Lewis chose this play, adapted by respected Canadian writers and performers Patty Jamieson and Johnna Wright, to head up the Queensland Theatre 2024 Season and subsequent national tour. It is a play for our times, dealing as it does with concepts of domestic abuse even though it is a period piece set in London in 1901, and it remains compellingly relevant to today’s audiences.


Bella Manningham is 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?


A much-used word in modern society, ‘gaslighting’ means psychologically manipulating people into questioning their own

sanity. In the play, the household’s gas lights flicker and dim on the evenings when the main character, Bella, played by Geraldine Hakewill, is alone, causing her to wonder if she is going mad.


Despite the dark themes, Geraldine Hakewill is thoroughly enjoying starring in the production and having loads of fun with her fellow cast. Hakewill is one of Australia’s best-known theatre and television performers, graduating from WAAPA in 2008. She has since starred in Les Liaisons Dangereuses, Fury, Baal, The Real Thing, Disgraced, Chimerica and Julius Caesar for the Sydney Theatre Company, Peter Pan for Belvoir, which toured to New York, Tartuffe for Bell Shakespeare Company, The Rise and Fall of Little Voice for Darlinghurst Theatre Company, and Macbeth for Melbourne Theatre Company. Her television credits include lead roles in Ms Fisher’s Modern Murder Mysteries, Wakefield and Wanted, for which she was nominated for a TV Week Logie for Most Outstanding Newcomer.


“After Covid, it’s so exciting for performers and the audience to be back in theatres,” said Geraldine.


“And this is a great show. The audiences have been so enthusiastic. When we first performed in Brisbane, there were people yelling and swearing, having a visceral reaction to what was happening on stage. People have really intense feelings towards the characters. At first, we thought it was just Brisbane audiences and that when we took the show

to Melbourne, the reactions would be more conservative – but that wasn’t the case! It was exactly the same!


gaslight

“It’s a deeply satisfying show, very entertaining, and although it’s a period piece, unfortunately, the themes seem timeless, and as a society, we are dealing with the same issues as Victorian England head-on right now. There are moments of humour, situational comedy, absurdity and sometimes, even just the brazenness of the gaslighting prompts a reaction. There are twists and turns in the plot; it’s a real psychological thriller, which theatre doesn’t do so much anymore. Horror is big in cinema, and it’s smart to stage a show like this, which is more like a melodrama in the purest sense (not the hammy sense!). It’s like the Hitchcock film he never made.


“My character, Bella, would have to be one of my favourite characters to perform. People recognise themselves in the relationships on stage. Sometimes they see their own marriages - it’s relatable. The fact it is set in a different time period provides a certain element of safety and removed from the darkness inherent in the piece. It provides an arm’s length view and is quite a cathartic experience for the audience.


man

“There is a sense of responsibility that I share with all the cast and creatives on the show- this is a story that is important to tell, especially now. Together we get to confront these themes as a nation, and art plays a critical role in that process. It’s also vital that the art is accessible. So, it may seem like a contradiction, but this show is really enjoyable. It’s layered and

rich, with a satisfying complexity that people will spend the car ride home enthusiastically discussing.”


Joining Geraldine on stage and playing her husband is Toby Schmitz, a respected writer, director and actor who was most recently seen on stage in Amadeus for Red Line opposite Michael Sheen or on screen in Boy Swallows Universe. His other acting theatre credits include The Rover, Hamlet, The Wild Duck, Measure for Measure, Thyestes, Strange Interlude, Ruben Guthrie and Dance of Death for Belvoir, The Present, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, Travesties, Hanging Man, Rabbit and The Great for STC, Wild and The Importance of Being Earnest for MTC, Much Ado About Nothing for Bell Shakespeare, The Boyce Trilogy for Griffin Theatre, Degenerate Art for Red Line, which he wrote and directed. Toby received Helpmann Award Nominations for his performances in Thyestes, Much Ado About Nothing and Ruben Guthrie, and Sydney Theatre Award Nominations for Howie The Rookie, The Great and Ruben Guthrie. Schmitz also has an impressive list of television and film credits under his belt.


Geraldine considers Toby to be one of the best theatre actors on stage today.


“He’s just one of the best,” said Geraldine.


“He’s playful and smart, brings light and shade to his role, and together, we find something new to explore every night.”


drama

One of Australia’s most accomplished actors, writers, and a legitimate theatre legend joins Toby and Geraldine on stage. Kate Fitzpatrick has appeared on stage for just about every major theatre company in Australia, as well as numerous TV and film productions. Her extensive theatre credits include Arcadia (Queensland Theatre); The Recruiting Officer (Melbourne Theatre Company); Hamlet on Ice, Celluloid Heroes, The Ride Across Lake Constance, Shadows of Blood, Rooted, Beyond Mozambique, Kennedy's Children and On the Shore of the Wide World (The Nimrod/ Stables/Belvoir). She’s had a play written for her by Patrick White (Big Toys), has published four books, including Namedropping and Airmail, was the world’s first female cricket commentator and has been awarded the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Medal for services to theatre.


Rounding out the cast and the perfect foil for Geraldine’s character, Bella, is actor and writer Courtney Cavallaro, who plays the young maid, Nancy, with sauciness and humour. Upon graduating from WAAPA (Performance Making), she was awarded the Belinda Dunbar Prize which recognises the most outstanding Bachelor of Performing Arts graduate and went on to be nominated as best newcomer in the WA Performing Arts Awards. Courtney was selected for the AFTRS National Talent camp, cast as Simone Sinclair in Irreverent (Netflix), and in 2023 Courtney made her Queensland Theatre debut in As You Like It.


woman with lamp

“It’s been such a lot of fun working on this production,” said Geraldine.


I had my son who is now 16 months old. I’ve bought him on tour with me, so I’m taking on the challenges of being a working mum. It’s quite exhausting because he’s full-on in the best possible way, but I love taking him everywhere. When he’s older, we’ll look back on this time and see how special it was to be part of this experience. My partner has been with us for most of the tour so far, but he has to go to work soon, and he’ll be replaced by some grandparents!


“I think the performing arts industry is getting better at supporting parents. And the cast and crew of this show are really supportive of each other. We have lots of fun backstage. Everyone is so passionate about what we’re doing, and you couldn’t get four people who were more different to each other, yet it works so very well.

“I also have to say that I adore the Director Lee Lewis. She is one of the reasons I said yes to doing the production. I’ve loved working with her; if she asked me to do it again, I would do it in a heartbeat. I also always liked the original

film with Ingrid Bergman, Charles Boyer and Angela Lansbury, but when I read the script of the new adaptation it was just so exciting. Then, as a new parent, I found the way the tour was structured really worked for me.”


The Newcastle season will mark the return to Newcastle for producer NewTheatricals, who also toured to Newcastle with the awardwinning Come From Away.


“Newcastle thoroughly embraced the superb storytelling in Come From Away, and are excited to bring this Hitchcock-esque suspenseful thriller that has been critically acclaimed across the country to Newcastle, which is now part of our national touring circuit,” said Producer Rodney Rigby of NewTheatricals.


Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes said it is fantastic to see the Civic Theatre attracting the best international theatre and musicals to Newcastle.


"The record-breaking success of shows like Come From Away and the Rocky Horror Show demonstrate the strong appetite among Novocastrians and visitors for internationalquality touring productions," Cr Nelmes said.


"We're thrilled to welcome the cast and crew of Gaslight to Newcastle in June, and I encourage everyone to secure their tickets for what is sure to be another compelling theatre experience at our iconic Civic Theatre." Geraldine is also looking forward to her time in Newcastle.


“My best friend lives in Newcastle,” said Geraldine.


behind curtain


“I actually have a few close friends who live there. Everyone I know in Newcastle tells me that I need to move there, and you know what? Maybe I’ll never leave! I visited a long time ago, and I remember it being very beautiful and I’ve heard such amazing things about the Civic Theatre. Performers rave about what a gorgeous old theatre it is, and it should be a perfect fit for the style of this show. I’m really looking forward to it.”


Gaslight opened its Australian tour in Brisbane in February to standing ovations and moved to Melbourne’s Comedy Theatre in March to rave reviews. The tour will take in Canberra Theatre Centre, the Regal Theatre in Perth, Riverside Theatre in Parramatta, the Roslyn Packer Theatre in Sydney and of course the Civic Theatre in Newcastle.


The 1944 American version of the film Gaslight received seven nominations at the 17th Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and won two, Best Actress (for Ingrid Bergman) and Best Production Design. In 2019, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". The original stage show opened in 1938 in London and played 141 performances. In 1941, it was renamed Angel Street when it moved to Broadway and remains one of the longest-running nonmusicals in Broadway history with 1,295 total performances.


According to Geraldine Hakewill, this is one show where you want to bring a big group of friends.


“Bring as many friends as you can,” said Geraldine.


“It’s particularly good after you’ve had a glass of champagne – lots of fun!”


Gaslight plays at the Civic Theatre Newcastle from 19–23 June, with seven performances and tickets from $69.90pp. Recommended for ages 13 and up, the show runs for approximately two hours and 30 minutes, including a 20-minute interval. Tickets are available from www.civictheatrenewcastle.com.au.




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