When Patrick Hamilton wrote his Victorian thriller, Gaslight in 1938, he probably didn’t think that he would be creating a new English colloquialism.
In the play, which takes to the stage of Newport’s Dolman Theatre on October 19, Jack Manningham tries to convince his wife Bella that she is mentally unwell and losing her sense of reality so that he can commit her to a mental institution and steal her inheritance. During the play, the gas lighting in the house appears to waver whenever Bella is left alone, causing her to doubt her sanity.
Although the term ‘gaslighting’ is not used in the play, it has now been adopted into the English language to describe the psychological manipulation of another person.
In 2018, Oxford University Press named ‘gaslighting’ as a runner-up in their list of the most popular new words.
Cathryn Rose of Newport Playgoers society plays Bella Manningham and says of her role, “Although Gaslight is a period drama, set in Victorian times, it resonates a lot even today.
“Keeping the nervous tension up, while portraying Bella’s emotional rollercoaster is a huge challenge, and rehearsals have been exhausting, but I feel very lucky to be cast in this great role.”
The play had its premiere at the Richmond Theatre, London on 5 December 1938 before transferring to the Apollo Theatre in the West End. It continued through many variations: Five Chelsea Lane (1941 American play), Angel Street (1941 American play), and Gaslight (1958 Australian television play). Angel Street was a Broadway hit and is one of the longest-running non-musicals in Broadway history.
Gaslight was also adapted into two critically acclaimed films, one British in 1940 and an American film in 1944, both entitled Gaslight, the latter also known as The Murder in Thornton Square in the UK. The 1944 American version received seven Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, and won two, Best Actress (Ingrid Bergman) and Best Production Design.
Gaslight by Patrick Hamilton will be performed by Newport Playgoers Society at the Dolman Theatre, Newport from 19 to 21 October at 7:15pm and 22 October at 2pm. For ticket availability visit the Dolman Theatre website or call 01633 263 670.