Where: Roxy Theatre
When: Opens tonight,continues to Nov. 2
Tickets: $33.50 to $44, ticketrocket.org or 250-590 6291
Stomach-crushing corsets reinforced with whalebone were all the rage in the late 19th century. So when actor Thea Gill was asked to wear one for the play Gaslight, set in 1880, she wasn’t entirely surprised.
That said, the experience of being tightly corseted was initially disconcerting.
“I wore it for the first time in rehearsal yesterday and I was a little edgy through all the rehearsal,” said Gill, 44, during an interview between rehearsals at the Roxy Theatre.
“I was like, I’m not comfortable. And on top of everything else, there’s the words and the [period] language. It was like, yeah, this is painful.”
Best known for portraying Lindsay Peterson in the television series Queer as Folk, Gill, who lives in Los Angeles, is in Victoria to play Bella Manningham in Patrick Hamilton’s 1938 thriller. Nanaimo actor Adrian Hough co-stars in Gaslight as Mr. Manningham, her nefarious husband.
Blue Bridge Repertory Theatre’s Brian Richmond (Gill’s former husband) directs the show. Gaslight was originally to have been directed by Janet Wright (also once married to Richmond). However, Wright was compelled to pass due to ill health.
While less known today, in the 1930s and ’40s Gaslight was a boffo success. It ran six straight months in London after its première. An American production, retitled Angel Street, drew crowds for four years on Broadway.
The play is known as a literate psychological thriller. Mr. Manningham victimizes his wife by trying to convince her she’s going insane. One of his ploys is to pretend the dimming gas lights in their home are just her imagination. The Victorian melodrama was so well-known, it popularized the term “gas-lighting” — a reference to situations in which victims are made to doubt their own perception of reality.
“It [gas-lighting] is prevalent today. Many women, especially vulnerable women, are often taken advantage of by dominant men. Or women,” Gill said.
Her last gig with Blue Bridge was a critically acclaimed portrayal of Blanche Dubois in A Streetcar Named Desire in 2010. There are passing similarities between Bella and Blanche. Both are victimized, even psychologically crushed, by overbearing men.
Playing Blanche Dubois, one of the most formidable female roles in 20th-century theatre, was a career-defining challenge, Gill said. Yet Gaslight is no walk in the park, either. She has previously done period theatre, including Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya and Othello.
“But I’ve never done a period piece like this before,” Gill said. “There are lots of words and sentences that are uniquely Patrick Hamilton’s. You have to get your tongue around it. It’s often tricky, I have to admit.”
Gill said she’s enjoyed rehearsals with Hough, a veteran of more than 100 film and television roles. During the interview, Hough dropped by the theatre’s lobby, where the pair exchanged compliments.
“You know what’s great about Adrian?” Gill said. “He makes me laugh in rehearsal.”
“The play is incredibly challenging,” Hough said. “But she’s literally radiant on stage. When you look across the stage and see who you’re working with, you see presence and you see talent. And there’s a sense of surprise at every new moment.”
Grinning, Gill said: “Because he feels that way, he’s wonderful to work with.”
“A fawning sycophant,” Hough joked.
Gill’s recent projects include performing in Stephen Belber’s Dusk Rings a Bell for the Blank Theatre in Hollywood and playing a bureaucrat in the Victoria-filmed disaster flick Stonados. Of late, she has become increasingly interested in singing.
Gill is developing a one-woman cabaret show that weaves tales of “old Hollywood” with torch songs. She’s working with conductor Gail Deadrick (who has worked with Natalie Cole) and director David Galligan. The trio previously collaborated on Gill’s cabaret show Body & Soul.
For now, the singing actor is glad to be working once again in Victoria.
“I hope to play here again; I would really like to,” Gill said.
“I would hope and desire for Blue Bridge to be my theatrical home.”