A Victorian Thriller in Three Acts
First edition 1939
|Written by||Patrick Hamilton|
|Date premiered||5 December 1938|
|Place premiered||Richmond Theatre, Richmond, London|
|Setting||On Angel Street, in the Pimlico district of London, 1880|
Gas Light (often spelled as Gaslight and known in the United States as Five Chelsea Lane and Angel Street) is a 1938 play by the British dramatist Patrick Hamilton. The play (and its film adaptations) gave rise to the term "gaslighting", meaning a form of psychological abuse in which false information is presented to the victim with the intent of making them doubt their own memory and perception.
The play is set in fog-bound London in 1880, at the upper middle class home of Jack Manningham and his wife Bella. It is late afternoon, a time that Hamilton notes as the time "before the feeble dawn of gaslight and tea."
Bella is clearly on edge, and the stern reproaches of her overbearing husband (who flirts with the servants) make matters worse. What most perturbs Bella is Jack's unexplained disappearances from the house: he will not tell her where he is going, and this increases her anxiety. It becomes clear that Jack is intent on convincing Bella that she is going insane, even to the point of assuring her she is imagining that the gas light in the house is dimming.
The appearance of a police detective called Rough leads Bella to realise that Jack is responsible for her torment. Rough explains that the apartment above was once occupied by one Alice Barlow, a wealthy woman who was murdered for her jewels but that the murderer never found them.
Jack goes to the flat each night to search for the jewels, and lighting the apartment's gas lights causes the lights to dim in the rest of the building. His footsteps in the supposedly empty apartment persuade Bella that she is "hearing things." Rough convinces Bella to assist him in exposing Jack as the murderer, which she does, but not before she takes revenge on Jack by pretending to help him escape. At the last minute she reminds him that, having gone insane, she is not accountable for her actions. The play closes with Jack being led away by the police.
Gas Light premiered on 5 December 1938 at the Richmond Theatre in Richmond, London. It transferred to the Apollo Theatre on 1 January 1939, and to the Savoy Theatre on 22 May 1939. The cast featured Dennis Arundell (Mr. Manningham), Milton Rosmer (Mr. Rough), Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies (Mrs. Manningham), Beatrice Rowe (Elizabeth) and Elizabeth Inglis (Nancy). The production closed 10 June 1939, after a total of 141 performances.
In the spring of 1941, Vincent Price and his wife, actress Edith Barrett, saw Gas Light performed in Los Angeles as a three-hander titled Five Chelsea Lane. They were impressed with the play and set about securing the rights for a Broadway production of their own. By fall, they had found a producer to underwrite the project, but Barrett abruptly withdrew to remain in Hollywood and work in films. In November 1941, Price returned to work on the New York stage. Judith Evelyn, the Canadian actress who had played the role of Mrs. Manningham in Los Angeles, was hired for the Broadway production. The name of the play was also changed, to Angel Street.
Angel Street premiered on Broadway at the John Golden Theatre on 5 December 1941, Produced and directed by Shepard Traube, the cast featured Leo G. Carroll (Rough), Florence Edney (Elizabeth), Elizabeth Eustis (Nancy), Judith Evelyn (Mrs. Manningham) and Vincent Price (Mr. Manningham). Price left the play after a year, when his working relationship with Evelyn deteriorated into what she described as his "violent dislike". In December 1942 the role of Mr. Manningham was assumed by John Emery. The play transferred to the Bijou Theatre on 2 October 1944, and closed on 30 December 1944 after 1,295 performances.
The play ran at New York City Center from 22 January 1948 to 1 February 1948, for 14 performances. Directed by Richard Barr, the cast featured José Ferrer (Mr. Manningham), Uta Hagen (Mrs. Manningham), Phyllis Hill (Nancy), Nan McFarland (Elizabeth), Ralph Roberts (Policeman), Victor Thorley (Policeman) and Richard Whorf (Rough).
The play was revived on Broadway at the Lyceum Theatre, opening on 26 December 1975 and closing on 8 February 1976 after 52 performances and 4 previews. Again directed by Shepard Traube, the cast featured Michael Allinson (Mr. Manningham), Dina Merrill (Mrs. Manningham), Christine Andreas (Nancy), Bette Henritze (Elizabeth) and Robert E. Thompson (Rough).
The play was produced at The Old Vic, London, in June 2007. under the title of Gaslight. Directed by Peter Gill, the cast featured Andrew Woodall as Mr. Manningham, Rosamund Pike as Mrs. Manningham and Kenneth Cranham as Rough.
The play was produced Off-Broadway (as Gaslight) by the Irish Repertory Theatre, running from 17 May 2007 to 8 July 2007. Directed by Charlotte Moore, the cast featured David Staller (Mr. Manningham), Laura Odeh (Mrs. Manningham), Laoisa Sexton (Nancy), Patricia O'Connell (Elizabeth), April Ann Klein (Police Officer) and Brian Murray (Rough). The production received a Lucille Lortel Awards nomination, Outstanding Featured Actor (Brian Murray), and Drama League Award nominations for Distinguished Revival of a Play and Distinguished Performance Award (David Staller).
In 2014, the Sandyford Little Theatre Company produced Gaslight, a Radio Play for Stage, an onstage radio play with seven actors playing 24 roles.
In 2015, Myriad Theatre & Film produced Gaslight at Ingatestone Hall in Essex.
In October 2016, the Lantern Theatre in Sheffield, England, produced Gaslight.
In 2019 Perth Theatre staged a production of "Gaslight" as part of their Winter / Spring season.
Louis Kronenberger wrote in his review of the 1948 City Center production that "it remains one of the better thrillers ... let's call it one of the best. All the same, though it holds up nicely for three acts, it seems to me outstandingly good for only one."Brooks Atkinson, in The New York Times, is quoted as writing "As a creepshow, Patrick Hamilton's Victorian melodrama remains close to the top of the class."
The New York Times reviewer of the 2007 production wrote:
David Staller plays this undesirable husband as a man whose lust exempts nothing. Every time he appears onstage, you think: keep this person away from my babysitter and Rolex. Mr. Staller's rogue posture modulates his character's cruelty, leavening the play's potentially stifling mood. Mr. Hamilton believed our most dangerous enemies were always in the room with us ..., and his work can feel claustrophobic. Ms. Moore is aware of this, providing the proper ventilation to clear much of the Victorian must. Brian Murray, playing the detective who uncovers Manningham's plan, is her greatest asset in this regard. He appears onstage with the red cheeks of a Santa Claus, an ageing imp who hides out in nooks and corners, showing a benevolent sarcasm that teases Bella out of her dimwitted complacency.
It remains a perennial favourite with both repertory and amateur theatre companies.
The story was dramatized as a half-hour radio play on the February 3, 1947 broadcast of The Screen Guild Theater, starring Charles Boyer and Susan Hayward. A 1946 one-hour radio production on Lux Radio Theatre featured Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman, stars of the 1944 film adaptation.