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Sandra James-Young interview: 'Gaslight is still full of issues a modern audience will recognise'

Will Longman

Will Longman

October 16, 2019 00:00

Patrick Hamilton's timeless psychological drama Gaslight returns to the stage year-after-year with directors, actors and creatives looking to keep the play relevant to a modern audience. Not that they need to much; while it was written in the 1930s, most can see how the issues in the play, which is about a woman put under undue pressure and stress from her husband, is relevant today. 

Richard Beecham's new production stages the play with an all-female cast, and we caught up with cast member Sandra Young-James to find out a little more about the effects this has on the story, and why this story is still as important as ever in 2019.

Patrick Hamilton coined the phrase 'gaslighting' with this play in 1938, are there issues in this play audiences will recognise?

There are many issues in this play that a modern audience will recognise, such as the physical and mental coercion of one person (usually female) by another (usually male) and the complicated way this destructive relationship thrives until hopefully the woman gets enough courage, strength and support to leave her abuser.

Why is it important to revive a play like Gaslight in 2019?

It's still important to highlight the fact that this type of abusive behaviour is not a new thing and has existed for many years in different forms.

Richard Beecham's production is set in the present day, what are some of the benefits of playing the story out in the 21st century rather than the 30s?

We've set the play within a women's refuge centre to bring the issues raised in the play to the forefront in a modern setting which modern audiences can relate to. The benefits of that include being able to cast and invite a much more culturally mixed diverse group of actors and audience. Using a modern setting to highlight the issues so more young people relate to the actors, the set, and costumes and can be made aware of the issues in a modern setting.

What does having an all-female cast bring to the play and also the rehearsal room?

It means we can identify with the real women of a refuge who we met and hopefully incorporate their experiences into the production.

As a theatregoer, how do you prefer to experience classic plays like this? Set in their time, or updated and modernised?

I prefer to see plays in a modern setting as it is challenging finding new ways to present certain important issues raised as in Gaslight.  

How would you describe the play for someone who has not seen it before?

I'd never seen to play before this either! It's a play set within a play in a modern-day setting. The play highlights the plight of a woman who is being carefully and systematically driven out of her mind so that her husband can find the Barlow Rubies. The play takes on a modern twist by introducing the traditional play being presented by modern day women who have found safety, comfort and support in a woman's refuge and have decided to perform the play as a way of exercising their 'demons' in a safe environment. 

What's your favourite thing about playing Elizabeth?

I enjoy playing Elizabeth/Celia (they're the same character!) because she is a complex character who has had her fair share of being in an abusive relationship and has developed OCD as a result of her experience, but has found strength through helping her mistress/fellow women in the refuge.

Gaslight is at Watford Palace Theatre until 26th October.

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