Camden Fringe 2023
The concept at the heart of Gaslight is one that is probably well known to many people who have had involvement with mental health issues; that physical injuries are visible and so are treated in a very different way to that of mental illness. Think about it: if you have a broken leg no one would even think to suggest you should just get back on your feet and run it off. Yet because mental health is invisible, you are much more likely to be told to ‘just get over it’. I know this only too well from personal experience, when a former employer told me I just had to get on with my job after returning from a mental health episode, with no regard to any need for a fuller healing period or a chance to get my brain back up to speed with the job.
Whilst I am in no way comparing what happened to me with a sexual assault, the fact remains that if unable to see the damage caused, we may be all too quick to tell people to ‘stop making such a deal of it’ or say ‘it’s about time they just got back to normal’. It’s here that Gaslight has a clever concept that deserves to be explored further. What if that sexual assault actually resulted in a real physical wound, one that everyone could see, even if they were not aware of what caused it? Would we continue to treat the person as if nothing was wrong and tell them they were overreacting? Or would we show a little more sympathy and understanding?
It’s a brilliant idea that is superbly visualised as Scarlet (played by the writer Shaira Berg) wakes up, after blacking out from drink, covered in blood and with a nasty chest wound. Unfortunately, the play’s execution from here is too clunky and in need of a complete overhaul.
The biggest issue is the flow. The action is constantly interrupted with scene changes, which take too long both because actors need to leave or enter the stage, or the scenery has to be rearranged. There are ways to resolve this and it’s the director’s job to do so. Better scenery placement would be a start – anything to reduce the need to keep moving items.
Then there is the oversized cast. As much as it’s wonderful to see a full ensemble, it’s at least two people too many. Misha Koshutskyy’s Simon feels especially redundant, always present but adding little to the overall story. When you only have an hour, every moment is vital and should be used to its full. There isn’t space to have unnecessary characters.
The script could also do with a second, detailed look. At times it hits: “The more I get involved in the criminal justice system the longer it will take to heal” ties up the physical wound with the assault wonderfully. But in other places there is baggage that needs discarding, to allow space for the finer points to be expanded upon.
As I seem to have said a few times this August, there is a great core here, but it’s currently let down by some poor choices. Gaslight needs to be stripped back and completely reassembled if it is to be taken further. The idea of a physical manifestation of sexual assault offers so much but it must have the right body around it to make it work.
Written by: Shaira Berg
Directed and sound by: Arianna Munoz
Produced by: Shaira Berg and Sarah Walton-Smith
Gaslight has completed its current run.