Hello again dear Readers! Today I have a special blog post for you all about a wonderful piece of theatre I experienced last night.
My boyfriend SS and I like to go to plays every Valentine’s Day. Rather than buying each other expensive and unnecessary gifts, we like to give each other a fun, exciting night out – a night of arts and culture. Last year, we went to see the play Once which was beyond incredible! The music was lively and so well performed, and I really enjoyed the story, although the ending was beyond depressing (and not at all filled with True Love, much to my disappointment).
This year, I received an update from Mirvish Productions that the play Gaslight was coming to Toronto. I’m not going to lie, I had never heard of Gaslight and had no particular passion for seeing the story performed. I did, however, notice that two actors from the immensely popular TV show Game of Thrones were starring in the production: Owen Teale and Ian McElhinney. SS is a HUGE fan of Game of Thrones (it’s the first show he forced me to watch when we started dating) and I knew he would be super interested in seeing these two actors live. I thought that maybe this could be the Valentine’s Day production we were looking for!
Then, I started to research the story more and discovered that it was, in fact, Victorian! I was instantly convinced – we had to see this play! As I read more about it, I also learned that it had a hugely gothic influence, complete with mystery, intrigue and madness. SS and I bought our tickets.
And boy, am I happy we did! We saw the play last night at 8:00pm, which is a perfectly gothic hour, not quite the dead of night but decidedly not daytime. The Ed Mirvish Theatre felt intimate, gloomy and quiet, and you could literally hear a pin drop. I think everyone in the audience was amped up to be taken on a horrific journey. And we were – from the moment the play started, we were engrossed in a typically morose and macabre Victorian setting: the set was replete with vivid burgundies and yellows, the furniture was grandiose, and the glow from the gaslight created an eerie atmosphere. The first actors to appear on stage, Flora Montgomery (who was perfect, perfect, PERFECT as a Victorian mistress) and Owen Teale, began with such reserved passion that it was immediately obvious we were going to witness some impeccable acting ability. Once Ian McElhinney entered the story, the humorous element increased, but there was still such an air of thrill and excitement, and the fast-paced dialogue was totally engaging to keep up with.
Now, these are some random impressions, but I should try to be clearer with my opinion: I LOVED this play! Honestly, I had no idea what to expect, and I was afraid that the Victorian era would not be adequately represented – but, believe me, it was. This play is labeled as a thriller, and a lot of people would be surprised by that. Most people I encounter think that the Victorian era is all prim propriety, decorum, women in high collars and corsets. This is, obviously, quite true. But what people don’t realize is that the Victorian era was incredibly macabre and gothic – some of our greatest horror stories originated in this time period (I’m looking at you Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde!), and I’ve spoken enough about the new TV series Penny Dreadful that you should all understand what I mean. Another huge interest in the Victorian era was mental illness and instability or, more simplistically, madness. The Victorians were obsessed with assessing whether or not people, particularly women, were mad, and so many pieces of literature were obsessed with depicting “mad” characters. Jane Eyre is actually one of the best representations of this.
So, I’m familiar with madness in Victorian literature – but I had never witnessed a Victorian character going mad before my eyes, until last night. Yes, Penny Dreadful treats mental instability, but that comes at the viewer through the lens of a TV screen. Last night, Flora Montgomery’s character was driven mad in front of the entire audience – and Owen Teale’s character was proven to be mad, an obsessive lunatic who roamed his attic endlessly and tiresomely, through the investigations of a witty and articulate Victorian inspector. This is a familiar Victorian storyline: detective investigates crime scene, determines that someone is mad, and will not stop until that madman (or, more often, madwoman) is found and apprehended. But to see this all acted out was so fascinating…to be a part of the journey and investigation was such a thrill. It sort of felt like I had become a Victorian detective myself, or at the very least, a spectator watching the crime unfold. I was immediately sucked in, and I made sure to follow each one of McElhinney’s speeches as closely as possible, so that I could decipher the clues myself.
Gaslight was incredibly entertaining in every way. SS said that he could not believe how quickly the 2 hour production went by, and we both agreed that the actors from one of our favourite TV shows were brilliant and convincing. But, to me, the real star was Flora Montgomery. Victorian women are seriously dear to me in every way – I fancy that I would’ve liked to be one myself – and I think she portrayed a troubled but courageous 19th century woman perfectly, from her manner of speech to the way she carried herself to her moments of strength amidst mania and hysteria.
All in all, I would give this production 5 brightly shining gaslights out of 5. It certainly represented my favourite era in a very exciting manner!
Girl with a Green Heart