Marea Colombo, the one and and only performer, is standing on stage doing crosswords when we arrive. I’m told that she’s an accomplished improviser, and I completely believe it. Her patter with the audience at the beginning is effortless, and believable. She’s surrounded on stage by a variety of suitcases, with a whiteboard at the back. The set feels like a wasted opportunity. While Chekhov's whiteboard gets put to good use, the bulk of it feels like it’s there just out of the need to have a set. It doesn’t feel thematically resonant, and is rarely integrated into the show.
But who cares? The show is enthralling. Marea Colombo starts us off with the story of a shitty ex of hers, and then dives right down into the psychology, and complexities of lying. She never really comes back up for air. The breadth of the show is astonishing. While always remaining personally grounded, and seemingly rooted in Colombo’s own experiences, it moves through time, space, and academic disciplines effortlessly. It interrogates complex social and ethical ideas with ease, and I never find myself going more than a couple of minutes without laughing.
Presumably because of her background in improv, along with her doctorate in theatre studies, Colombo is able to expertly inhabit a variety of different characters throughout the show. She moves in and out of them with ease, giving them a distinct, caricatured feel, but never pushing it too far and taking us out of the world of the show.
However, the use of lighting to separate these different characters often feels cheap, and a little lazy. Coloured washes are used occasionally to separate different worlds, and they feel like too much icing on the cake. The colours used (bright green, red, etc) are so extreme that it feels like the creators of the show are bashing us over the head.
Gaslight Me never feels like a speech. It always feels like theatre, full and grand and in motion, taking full advantage of the stage. This is a credit not just to Marea Colombo, but to the show's director Bronywyn Wallace, who takes what is already on paper outstanding material and elevates it further. While I wish that the scenography of the play was a little more integrated, It’s perhaps testament to the strength of the show's core that it feels like it’s contributing little to the whole.
Ending the show, and wrapping everything up, is a bit of an impossible task. There’s so much being discussed here, that when it comes time to narrow the focus back into a personal place, and find a way to wrap it up, it feels unsubstantial. A day later, I’m still processing a variety of the different ideas and tangents the show takes, but I feel like I’m addressing each of them individually, not with a specific lens guided by the show's conclusion. I want to make it clear that I’m not asking for every single idea in the show to be re-addressed and given a clearly defined meaning by Colombo, I love that the show has respect for us as an audience to figure things out on our own. The ending isn’t even bad, it’s intimate and emotive. It just isn’t quite befitting of the titan of a show that led into it.
I heavily respect the choice to not do bows at the end. I think that the show is aided by the audience not being gently reminded that it was a show, and that everything’s okay now, because fuck that, it isn’t. It feels like the play is inviting me to continue to grapple with it, and I have no doubt that I will continue to do so for months to come.
Gaslight Me is on till Saturday the 4th at the Gryphon Theatre. Tickets are available at fringe.co.nz