Theatre / “Belfast Girls”. Written by Jaki McCarrick and directed by Jordan Best. At The Q, Queanbeyan, until August 31. Review by Simone Penkethman
“BELFAST Girls” explores the seldom-told tale of Earl Grey’s Orphan Emigration Scheme in the mid-nineteenth century. The scheme shipped thousands of girls and women from famine-ravaged Ireland to Australia to seek a better life.
“Belfast Girls” is the first production by Echo Theatre, the Q’s new professional company that has a mandate to shine a spotlight on female playwrights. Jaki McCarrick insightfully explores complex political, cultural and historical circumstances through the painfully human lens of impoverished and abused yet still boisterous and hopeful young women.
On stage, a vast wood, rope and canvas set evokes the “Inchinnan“, the second of Earl Grey’s ships, in which the action takes place.
We follow the journeys of five young women who are mainly from the Irish Catholic underclass. Throughout their voyage they divulge the desperation of their past and share their hopes for an imagined future. A dark and ribald wit drives their dialogue and their explosive physical energy swings back and forth from playful to violent.
In addition to shining a spotlight on a woman playwright, the show offers five strong roles for a young generation of actresses. The cast was uniformly strong with standout performances from Isabel Burton as Judith, a Jamaican-born orphan who was adopted by an oyster catcher; and Natasha Vickery as Hannah, who carries the shame of having been sold to a pimp by her father.
The voyage is both literally and metaphorically the place inbetween the Irish past and the Australian future and McCarrack’s script relies heavily on exposition as the girls look forward and back.
In the opening-night performance, much of the dialogue was difficult to hear. The stage accents were credible and consistent but combined with the fast pace of dialogue and at times very loud soundtrack, crucial revelations were inaudible or unclear. Unfortunately, this technical difficulty was most pronounced in the climactic scene, set during a storm at sea.
This is an interesting and important story and audiences will be offered a deeper and more satisfying engagement in this production if technical issues can be resolved.