Review: Gaslight

Unwatcheable at times. Brilliant

Content Notes: Sexual assault, emotional/physical abuse, anxiety, depression, reference to addiction, reference to suicide, swearing, blood, alcohol, drugs.

In a brilliant and harrowing play that will stay with me for a long time, Scarlett, nicknamed “Scar” – a smart choice of name – is assaulted after a night out, yet no one seems to really care. In a short yet poignant and impactful play, brilliantly written by Shaira Berg, who also plays Scarlett, we see a powerful commentary on society’s attitudes towards sexual assault, and specifically highlights changes needed not by institutions, but by individuals in this regard.

Berg cannot be praised highly enough for her script, which was engaging from start to finish, and didn’t feel the need to drag on and have “filler scenes” to stretch out the play beyond an hour (a mistake student writers often make to reach the nonsensical “target” of 90 minutes). Her script was soul-wrenching from start to finish, as the audience found themselves with strong, deep-rooted opinions about the characters, and a huge amount of empathy for nearly all of the characters, as intended.

Yet even with such a brilliant script, where Berg really shone was her acting. Her brilliant depiction of a troubled university student reminded me of many characters in my life. Her portrayal of the pain of suffering an assault, combined with the pain of not only being ignored, but actually betrayed by her friends, hurt me deeply just watching.

Tate (George Prentice) in a possessive position over Scar (Shaira Berg). Photo Credits: Alessia Mavakala

In fact, the acting throughout this play was simply impecacble. In the above picture we see her boyfriend, Tate. From the beginning it is clear that he is a possessive, manipulative man, and he plays this role perfectly. I found myself hating him almost immediately, and as much credit must go to the well-written and accurate script as to his acting. He played the role so effectively through abrupt and loud delivery, combined with dominating physical presence across the stage, and the aggressive treatment of the props added to this greatly.

One particularly painful scene is his manipulation of Scar’s younger sister, Katie, despite the protests of Simon. Katie, played by Alessandra Rey, had a key role to play as a family member to Scar, and demonstrated how it can be difficult to get support even at home.

Her role may go under the radar, but her acting in the last scene is something that I can genuinely say has scarred me, and will stay with me for a long time; she played her role well, and was extremely impressive throughout.

Simon, played by Misha Koshutskyy, was a great inclusion as a character in the script. Arguably, he formed the backbone of the play, and without his wit, but also moral backbone, this play would have seemed one sided. That is the brilliance of this play – it is so relatable, and we see ourselves in all of the characters at at least one point, which gives us a lot to reflect on.

Katie, Simon and Angela (left to right). Conversations revolve around Angela, with Simon providing a backbone. Photo Credits: Alessia Mavakala

Angela was also extremely impressive throughout; she was demanded to demonstrate the widest range of emotions, and rose to the challenge extremely well. I felt genuine passion and emotion in her second confrontation with Scar, and a sense of real sorrow, but also frustration at her own stupidity. Sarah Walton-Smith is clearly an extremely talented actress, and to an extent formed the core of the play, from which all key conversations extended.

A mention must also go to Melania Hamilton, who admittedly had a far more minor role, but clearly spent time thinking about each and every word that she had to deliver; even simple things like her body language were able to communicate huge things, all the way up to an institutional attitude about mental health; and this is just her body language. Her facial expressions when overhearing a heated exchange, combined with the shockingly loud shout at the end to force us to hang onto the previous tense moment was very, very effective.

One thing notable throughout is the effectiveness and striking nature of the imagery and symbolism used to represent the “wound”, and credit must go to the blood technician Maisie Johnson, as well as director Arianna Muñoz for this. Their ability to engineer moments of tension from the script was impressive enough, but their ability to keep this tension up for an extended period of timeplay was overall brilliantly directed, with a simple set and even simpler scene changes. It was the small things, like making Angela sit backwards on the chair every time, to emphasise the ‘pick me’ element that we are all to familiar with, that enabled the audience to really engage, understand and really feel the effects of what was happening on each character.

I cannot recommend this play highly enough, but before watching, you must be prepared for the lasting impact that this will leave on you. You have been warned. 5/5.

Gaslight is showing at EtCetera Theatre (Camden) from 17-20th August, at 3pm. Get your tickets here.

Featured image credits: Alessia Mavakala

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