Directed by Jordan Best
Echo Theatre production
The Q Theatre, Queanbeyan to 31 August
Reviewed by Len Power 24 August 2019
‘Belfast Girls’ is the first play to be performed by Echo, a new professional company in the Canberra/Queanbeyan region. Under artistic director, Jordan Best, Echo plans to shine a spotlight on female playwrights.
The author of the play, Jaki McCarrick, was born in London of Irish parents. She moved back to Ireland at age 12. Initially trained as an actor, she has gone on to a successful writing career with the plays ‘Leopoldville’, ‘The Naturalists’ and ‘Belfast Girls’.
‘Belfast Girls’ is the story of five women who make the journey by ship to Australia under the Orphan Emigration Scheme. Between the years 1848 and 1851, over four thousand Irish females took passage on ships from Ireland to Australia under this Government scheme. While the voyage gave the travellers hope for a fresh start and a better life, the reality was that many found prejudice and hardship that was little different to their life in Ireland. The scheme was abandoned by 1852.
The play shows the experiences of five young women thrown together in close quarters during the long voyage to Australia. Past hardships and experiences and their personal differences provide the drama for these characters’ lives as the journey progresses.
The five actors give very committed performances. Unfortunately, the strong Irish accents and the speed of their delivery made it difficult to understand what they were saying. Some of the quieter speeches were lost because of a lack of projection. As a result, trying to follow the story of the play was quite difficult. During a storm scene in the second act, the sound effects were so loud that it was impossible to hear what the characters were arguing about and why they came to blows.
Depicting the cramped and dark quarters of steerage below decks on a sailing ship of this era on stage presents obvious difficulties. The huge ship set designed by Chris Zuber to fill the large stage of the Q Theatre was impressive-looking but there was too much open space in the playing area of the women’s cabin to be realistic. There was also a lack of atmosphere in the lighting design by Murray Wenham with bright lighting for the women’s cabin for most of the play.
Director, Jordan Best, has aimed for rawness and realism in her production but more attention to detail was needed. It was especially difficult to feel any involvement with the characters and story when it was too hard to hear and understand the dialogue.
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