During the fall, Severn School’s Water Street Players faced more challenges than ever in creating their annual fall upper school drama production. With distancing guidelines and rotating schedules, a typical performance simply was not possible. But they rose above these obstacles to create an impressive dramatic experience with the 1940s radio play “Gaslight.” The result? A gripping, chilling performance that reached beyond the limits of traditional theater and kept the audience on the edge of their virtual seats.
About The Play
This classic 1940s radio play is set in fog-bound London in 1880, at the upper middle-class home of Gregory Manningham and his wife, Bella. It is set in late afternoon, a time that playwright Patrick Hamilton notes as the time “before the feeble dawn of gaslight and tea.” Bella and Gregory are recently married, having honeymooned in Italy, yet months later, Bella begins to become forgetful and is clearly on edge, and Gregory is beginning to change as well, making unexplained disappearances from the house; he will not tell her where he is going, and this increases her anxiety. The arrival of a police detective called Rough causes further anxiety for Bella, as he explains that there may be something sinister going on and that ghosts from the past may continue to haunt her house. It is a time-tested story of melodrama and manipulation that continues to enthrall audiences to this day. This version of the play is based on scripts by Patrick Hamilton, Jan Van Druten, Walter Reisch and John L. Balderston.
The cast, most of whom voiced multiple roles, includes Maddie Clarke, Grace Derderian, Sam Grady, Michael Hesford, Maddie Howell, Jeffrey Huang, Jack Mandish, Zarah Meek and Ava Wisnom.
Ingenuity Takes The Stage
Upper school drama teacher Ron Giddings, a 1999 Severn School graduate, worked with technical theater director Ralph Derbyshire to create a set that would allow the actors to interact with one another in real-time during the filming of the production while following current safety guidelines. They transformed the stone amphitheater in the Stine Environmental Center into a set of radio booths complete with vintage microphones.
With striking lighting and ‘40s era makeup and costumes, the visual effect amplified the complicated tension among the characters in the play. In post-production, Giddings added music and sound effects to the performance to heighten the overall experience. Severn School held a Zoom showing of the film in December, followed by a real-time Q&A session with the cast and crew. In the face of incredible obstacles, the performance was a remarkable success.
Visit the Severn School website to see a video of “Gaslight.”