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State Theatre's back with a Victorian thriller at Her Maj


State Theatre Company SA will present the first large-scale show in the new-look Her Majesty’s Theatre next month with what artistic director Mitchell Butel describes as a “dynamic reinvention” of the 1938 thriller Gaslight.

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The production will mark the company’s return to the stage after COVID-19 restrictions halted its 2020 season in March, forcing the postponement or cancellation of five shows.

Gaslight was to have played in the Dunstan Playhouse at the Adelaide Festival Centre, but with health guidelines allowing venues to open with only 50 per cent capacity, it has been moved to the much larger Her Majesty’s Theatre in Grote Street.

The new-look Her Maj was unveiled last month following a $66 million rebuild and can now seat up to 1467 people over three levels.

“We’re so lucky in South Australia, with the low [COVID-19] transmission rates, to be able to welcome people back to the theatre, into what is the newest theatre in Adelaide – and a fabulous one at that,” Butel says.

At half capacity, Her Majesty’s will be able to accommodate around 740 people per performance for Gaslight, which will run from September 4-19. Audience members who already hold tickets for the show will be automatically re-seated in the new venue.

“The seating in Her Maj will be chequerboard, so there will be a seat either side of you, a seat in front of you and a seat behind you that is empty,” Butel says.

“Even if you are with your partner or your best mate, there will still be a seat between everybody. It’s like gold-class theatre – everybody gets a bit of room to spread out!”

The cast and creatives of Gaslight are all based in South Australia, so the production won’t have to navigate state border closures.

The play, set in 1880s London, was written in 1938 by British writer Patrick Hamilton and spawned a 1944 film starring Ingrid Bergman. It has been given a new twist by SA director Catherine Fitzgerald, and Butel says it’s fitting that it will be presented in a rebuilt 1913 theatre that has undergone its own modern reinvention.

Looking out to the new auditorium from the stage of Her Majesty’s Theatre. Photo: Chris Oaten

It was Hamilton’s play that led to the term “gaslighting”, meaning a type of psychological abuse.

“In the play we have what seems to be a loving relationship between this couple [Jack and Bella Manningham, played by Nathan O’Keefe and Ksenja Logos] but gradually the husband keeps inferring that the wife is having some mental problems – he leads her to start questioning herself,” Butel says.

“Then it’s revealed through the play that maybe she’s fine and he’s the one that’s deceiving her into believing all these things, and from there a kind of thriller evolves.”

State Theatre’s production of Gaslight will be presented with the original text, in period setting and costumes. However, Butel says Fitzgerald has given it a “dynamic reinvention” that “flips it on a gender level and re-interrogates it, so it hopefully resonates with some modern implications as well”.

“It will be a really entertaining night in the theatre.”

Adelaide Festival Centre CEO and artistic director Douglas Gautier says the venue will ensure SA Health’s COVID-19 guidelines are met for the performances. Bars and foyers on all three levels of the theatre will be open, and staff will be briefed “on how to get people in and get people out and what the protocols while be in those foyers during that time”.

Slingsby presented a short season of its show The Tragical Life of Cheeseboy to audiences of around 20 people per session at Her Majesty’s last month, but Gaslight will be the first large-scale production in the theatre.

“We’re really pleased about that, and it will also give a number of people an opportunity to see into the theatre, which everyone who has seen it to date thinks is fantastic,” Gautier says.

Chequerboard seating will be in play for Gaslight at Her Majesty’s theatre.

The first show set to open back in the Adelaide Festival Centre since the pandemic struck will be children’s theatre company Patch’s 10th-anniversary season of Me & My Shadow, opening in the Dunstan Playhouse on August 12.

Gautier says the current COVID-19 outbreaks interstate mean it will probably be some time before national and international touring shows return. Meanwhile, the AFC is working with the South Australian arts sector and exploring every opportunity to support and present local work.

“Clearly, both the artists and our organisation have been thrown back on thinking, let’s look at the strengths of the sector and what the sector can produce which it wouldn’t otherwise have had the opportunity to do, and how we can bring that work to the public in the best way we can in the current circumstances.

“We also have to bear in mind that circumstances might change, as they have in the eastern states.”

State Theatre Company SA’s next scheduled production after Gaslight is the comedy Ripcord, by Pulitzer Prize winner David Lindsay-Abaire, which is due to open at the Dunstan Playhouse on November 13. One of its two lead actors, Nancye Hayes, is based in New South Wales.

“We are all playing it by ear,” Butel says, adding that in recent months people have come to accept that things might change.

“One of the silver linings of COVID is that people are very adaptable now – they get that it’s a weird time and everyone is trying to do their best.”

Gaslight will be presented at Her Majesty’s Theatre from September 4-19. 


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