The subject of gaslighting is at the heart of Katie Bonna’s show at the Soho Theatre, which originally ran to widespread acclaim at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe. Named after the 1938 play by Patrick Hamilton, it describes a form of psychological abuse in which the abuser impresses such a strongly sustained lie upon the victim that he or she – and more frequently she – thinks they are going mad. None-too-cheery stuff, then, but Bonna waxes lyrical on the subject with bright-eyed generosity in a TED-style talk that mixes comedy and confession.
She reveals her own childhood experiences of gaslighting, with a father whose refusal to admit to an affair with a colleague drove her mother to alcoholism. She also connects gaslighting to the current state of post-truth politics (yes, a certain president’s poker-faced duplicity gets a particular mention). In one delightful high point, she unpacks her ‘half-Jeremy Clarkson, half-Alan Partridge’ dad’s repressed psyche through a game of audience participation involving booing and thrown balls. A final moment of self-reckoning – where Bonna admits she’s compulsively lied throughout all her relationships – would have packed far more of a punch if it hadn’t presented itself as spontaneous whilst being so clearly scripted. But maybe that’s half the point. Truth, lies, fact, fiction: can any of us keep them separate? Bonna certainly doesn’t think so.