Pros: It is always important to share stories of suffering when the practice of the penitentiaries is still so recent.
Cons: Lacking in story arc.
FilthyCOW are an all female troupe driven to create theatre that explores the roles of women historically, culturally, socially and politically. They strive to strip away the male gaze and show womanhood at its truest, bravest, strongest, messiest, most flawed and most beautiful, embracing the diversity of women’s experiences around the world by exploring and devising new work and re-imagining existing texts. Eclipsed is their current endeavour, and is presented at The Space in East London.
The Magdalene Laundries were asylums to house fallen women, a term that implies immoral conduct, promiscuity and indecency. However, the women sent to these asylums were usually unmarried young mothers, victims of sexual assaults, and prostitutes; women whose conduct threatened to embarrass the family or their society, and who were largely forced into the Laundries by family members, or the Catholic Church. The institutions became notorious as places of inhumane treatment, deprivation, degradation and routine humiliation.
Written in 1992 and set in a Magdalene Laundry in the Ireland of the 1960’s, Eclipsed is based on the experiences of Patricia Burke Brogan as a novice nun in one of the institutions. The play follows the pattern of days for a group of women in the Laundries, along with the Sister and Mother responsible for them. We hear the simple wishes of the women, to see their babies, to get away to America, to meet Elvis Presley, and witness the detrimental effect the Laundry has on their physical and mental health. Some fight, some fall. As a text written by a woman with first hand experience of the Laundries, Eclipsed is a valuable document of a certain place in a certain time. As a play, it is lacking in sufficient story to fully engage an audience. The horror we now know to have been rife throughout the Laundries never finds true expression; Sister Virginia (Rosie Orchison), is a young novice nun who is very much on the women’s side; Mother Victoria (Maryrose Swabrick), while plainly ignoring the ill health and sufferings of her charges, would not give Miss Trunchbull a run for her money. There is no real arc to the story, it is more a sequence of events that seeks to say only: ‘Look. These were things that happened.’ Which, sometimes, is good enough.
The Laundries ran for two centuries, with the last remaining institution closing in the impossibly recent year of 1996, in Waterford, Ireland. We know now what absolute hovels of hardship these places were, and the suffering they inflicted on the innocent. We see the hypocrisy of the societies that punish the mothers of illegitimate children but not fathers, behaviour which still goes on in various countries today. Women are so often shackled with shame. It’s important these hypocrisies are held up for inspection, however Eclipsed left me a little disappointed in the lack of story; I look forward to seeing what other works FilthyCOW manage to bring to the public eye.
Author: Patricia Burke Brogan
Director and Musical Director: Claire Sharpe
Booking Until: This production has now finished its run