Although it was written 80 years ago, Angel Street (aka Gaslight) is completely in tune with the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements around ending violence against women. The story of an unsolved murder and a woman’s heart-pounding struggle for survival plays at the Classic Theatre Festival in Perth until September 9th.
Written by Patrick Hamilton – who also had a major hit with the thriller Rope, turned into an Alfred Hitchcock classic – Angel Street has won both audience raves and critical praise, with the esteemed Capital Critics Circle’s Iris Winston enthusing that this “production offers well-defined characterizations and a satisfying buildup of suspense.” Veteran theatre reviewer Jamie Portman agrees, writing “The Classic Theatre Festival has produced a sizzling revival of Patrick Hamilton’s renowned psychological thriller.”
It’s the annual mystery thriller produced by the Festival, a fitting show for the end of summer as the nights get longer, the floorboards start to creak with the cooler temperatures, and we start planning fall reading cozying up by a fire. It’s also the play that inspired the oft-used term for any acts of psychological manipulation in abusive relationships: gaslighting.
In Angel Street, Bella Manningham (played by Jessica Sherman) is driven to a point where she begins to question her sanity by a possessive and controlling husband (Jeffrey Aarles), who has isolated her and threatened her with the dreaded madhouse if she does not comply with his increasingly brutal demands. Whether she will survive her ordeal is up to an unlikely ally who suddenly appears: is he part of a dream cooked up by a mentally unstable Bella, or does he exist for real?
Mixed in with the play is an unsolved murder, intrigue among the servants, and the bleak days and nights of Victorian-era London, when pollution choked the air and muddied the waters, and social inequality produced by the Industrial Revolution heightened pre-existing class tensions.
When the show opened on Broadway, it starred a then unknown Vincent Price and ran for over three years. The current production features a finely-tuned cast that also stars veteran Canadian performers Sheldon Davis, Darla Biccum and Lauren Horejda, all of whom have been seen frequently both on stage and in TV and film.