New Athenaeum Theatre, 24 The Octagon, Dunedin
23/03/2022 - 26/03/2022
FatG: Fringe at the Gryphon, 22 Ghuznee Street, Wellington
01/03/2023 - 04/03/2023
Brought to you by the creators of the sell-out season of Daddy Issues – another look at yourself that you might not be prepared for! Gaslight Me is a one-person show, devised by two queer theatre practitioners from Dunedin, which explores the lies we tell ourselves and others. The piece uses psychology and comedy hand in hand to expose the inner workings of past relationships with family, friends, and lovers.
New Athenaeum Theatre, 23 The Octagon, Dunedin
Wed 23 – Sat 26 March 2022
$15.00 – $20.00
“Gaslight Me is a scintillating production that grabs the audience by the short and curlies, maintaining its grip throughout with an exquisite blend of pain and pleasure, and this sweet agony should certainly be experienced by audiences far beyond Aotearoa.” – Theatreview
NZ Fringe 2023
FatG at Gryphon Theatre, 22 Ghuznee Street, Wellington
Wednesday 01 – Saturday 04 March 2023
+ Saturday 04 March, 1:00pm
Written by Bronwyn Wallace and Marea Colombo
Performed by Marea Colombo
Directed by Bronywn Wallace
Theatre , Comedy ,
An extremely intelligent, insightful and entertaining exposé of a persistent psychological condition
Review by John Smythe 02nd Mar 2023
As we settle into our seats at the Gryphon, I assume the stage littered with random suitcases, baskets and bags plus a lone chair, a small desk and a white board, as a woman ticks things off a list, means she is either moving out or moving in. Fifty minutes later, neither has proved to be true. Have writer/director Bronwyn Wallace and writer/performer Marea Colombo been gaslighting us? Or is the mess of mainly baggage a metaphor for what she has revealed to us?
Colombo’s commanding presence and fluency with words as herself, Marea, is instantly engaging, and the territory she traverses is very relatable. An awkward breakup, in Dunedin in 2021, introduces the core theme of honesty and by association, gaslighting. It’s a shame she only references one of the two the 1940s film adaptations rather than Patrick Hamilton’s 1938 stage play, set in 1888, as the source of the verb to gaslight. It means to manipulate (someone) using psychological methods into questioning their own sanity or powers of reasoning (Oxford Languages). Nevertheless, the thematic stage is set.
The use of cutlery – a spoon, fork and knife – to represent different levels of potential harm is ingenious. Marea’s focus is on the more insidious forms of gaslighting that we are subtly spoon-fed on a daily basis, which are not unrelated to atrocities like witch-burning. It has to be said – and she does – that lying is like a drug we can all succumb to, as casual users or addicts, believing it to be good for ourselves and others.
Revealing her legendary role model from age 5 leads into a lively lecture on how young brains work and evolve, and how that both checks and provokes the desire to lie. We are treated to a quick game of ‘True or False’, dating apps get an inevitable mention but it’s our love of gossip that leads us down the conspiracy theory rabbit holes – visually enhanced with historical images stuck to the white board.
From the universal we return to the particular: the way our lizard brains make us fall for people we shouldn’t. Then there’s the physically represented internal tug-of-war with our self-esteem and the way we gaslight ourselves …
While Colombo and Wallace explore all this from the perspective of women, it applies to everyone. And they offer no easy answers. We are each left to consider when, why and how we gaslight each other and ourselves. Gaslight Me is an extremely intelligent, insightful and entertaining exposé of a persistent psychological condition.
Copyright © belongs to the reviewer
A scintillating production - both ebullient and subtle
Review by Terry MacTavish 25th Mar 2022
Gaslight Me – delicious shivers down the spine at the intriguing title, and more delight at the thought of an evening with Dunedin treasure, the fabulous Marea Colombo. I’m spurred on by a vivid memory of interviewing her for Ch 39 Fringe Chat ep7 about her previous sell-out show, Daddy Issues, at last year’s Fringe.
But it is way back in 2015 that I reviewed The Most Wonderful Time of the Year, enthusing about Colombo’s awesome, wordless opening sequence. Since then, she has lavished her energy and talent on many of our burgeoning theatre companies – Counterpoint, Arcade, Discharge, Improsaurus – and furthered her experience on tour. She continues to develop as a performer: without losing her original ebullience it seems she brings more subtlety to her work.
Colombo’s academic research has given her a shrewd understanding of human behaviour, and her continued practice in improvisation means she handles the audience superbly, involving them without embarrassing them, and dealing lightly with those eager to involve themselves a little too much.
Co-writer Bronwyn Wallace is obviously the perfect choice as director, professionally experienced and seemingly on just the same wavelength. She ensures Gaslight Me is elevated from a good stand-up comedy routine to a fully theatrical experience with satisfying physical and vocal variety. Sightlines have been carefully considered, so that even with extra seating arranged on an angle to accommodate the full house, everyone feels included.
Visual excitement is provided in the way of costume changes, including one excellent strip-reveal, and lots of humorous teaching aids, from a white board with pictures of Elon Musk, Princess Diana, and Walt Disney supposedly demonstrating a ludicrously insane conspiracy theory, to a rope for a metaphorical tug-of-war between the desire to fulfil society’s expectations and the desire to be an independent thinker.
Gaslighting gains its scary name from the 1938 play-turned-film, in which a scheming husband manipulates his wife into believing she is going crazy by fixing their (gas)lights to flicker, then denying it is happening. Perhaps we have become more aware of gaslighting in personal relationships through political analysis of ‘fake news’?
Whatever, Colombo combines erudite scientific information about this phenomenon with a hilarious story from the past Covid-crazy year about internet Zoom-dating, and what happens when beastly Bernard, who seems perfect online, turns out to be to be a total jerk in the flesh.
It is utterly mystifying to me that anyone would dare gaslight Colombo, who truly has a PhD in Psychology and isn’t afraid to use it. But whether the events she relates and character she creates actually exist doesn’t matter – the truth doesn’t always have to be factual, does it?
The examination of sinister ‘Gaslighting’ is just the kicking-off point for the play’s wider exploration of the other ways we are lied to in our lives. And of the way, from apparently age five, we learn to lie to survive. As poet Ogden Nash of the idiosyncratic spelling pointed out, words were given to us to conceal our thoughts ‘and a naked thought is ineffectual as well as improper, and hasn’t a chance in the presence of a glib chinchilla-clad whopper’.
Authentic or just darn good acting, Colombo’s honest character is charmingly comical, in the confessional style we love in Bridget Jones, Eleanor Oliphant, Shirley Valentine, Fleabag – all who fear they fail to measure up as Ideal Women. Her account of the disadvantages of being blessed with big breasts, the mythic ‘Double D’, is excruciatingly funny. And what genius to see false pockets as a blatant lie, one that deprives women of a place to stick their hands when feeling socially awkward. (You’ll enjoy the joke even more if you check the meaning of vaginismus beforehand!)
Altogether the script is as clever as you’d expect from a Doctor of Psychology, and occasionally I miss the links. (Note to self: ‘Do always listen for connections, Do Not always scribble notes for review’.) But every twist is fascinating, and the topic really resonates. I can tell from the quality of the laughter that I am not the only one cringing to recall the times we lie to impress – why, oh why did I have to tell my school friends I had seen a pilot drop a bag of vomit out of the plane’s window??
My only quibble is that I really want to know more about Bernard, and how absolutely awful he is. Invested as I am in Colombo’s character I am totally on her side, and would relish hearing more of his devious tricks, loyally hating Bernard on her behalf, and just incidentally applying the knowledge to a few people I am starting to recognise as gaslighters in my own life!
But I love that she concludes with pungent imaginary advice to her present self from her future self. How neatly the very well-organised New Atheneum Theatre has balanced its programme – following Gaslight Me is The Book Addict, with lovely Annie Ruth looking back from maturity to the dubious decision-making of her youth, and consequent misadventures with manipulative men. In 2050/60, will Marea be Annie?
Understandably this gifted actor has quite a following in the city, a normally phlegmatic friend of mine gushing, “Marea is supremely talented, coherent, funny, relatable, nerdy!” and the season is sold out. Dunedin may be guarding its own a little selfishly though – Colombo deserves to be shared more widely.
I come to the performance straight from the funeral of one of Dunedin’s great men of the theatre, Keith Harrison 1932-2022, actor, director, teacher, and respected reviewer of both stage and television for many years, as AKH on the Otago Daily Times. These days we reviewers are as often reviled as respected, but Keith’s contribution to theatre in Dunedin should not be underestimated.
Following unbiased, insightful reviews for the Globe, the Playhouse, the Regent, and the Mayfair, Keith was entrusted with reviewing the brave professional company calling itself the Fortune Theatre, which operated successfully for over 40 years, aided in no small way by his well-informed critiques. From the 1970s, Keith encouraged, rewarded, and judiciously criticised, recognising new talent and inspiring the theatre to ever greater heights.
I would be doing less than my duty if I didn’t follow Keith’s example (though being a scholar and a gentleman, he may not have chosen these precise words) and make this supportive reviewer’s declaration:
Gaslight Me is a scintillating production that grabs the audience by the short and curlies, maintaining its grip throughout with an exquisite blend of pain and pleasure, and this sweet agony should certainly be experienced by audiences far beyond Aotearoa.
Copyright © belongs to the reviewer
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