Wednesday, August 28, 2019


Belfast Girls.L to R, Phoebe Heath, Eliza Jennings, Isabel Burton, Joanna Richards, Natasha Vickery. Photo. Jordan Best

“Belfast Girls” by Jaki McCarrick, directed by Jordan Best for Echo Theatre. At The Q, Queanbeyan, until August 31. Review by PHILLIP MACKENZIE
FIRST,  let us consider the script of 'Belfast Girls'.
The story-line concerns the adventures of five young Belfast women who have joined up to Earl Grey’s Orphan Emigration Scheme to provide female company for, and therefore a civilising influence on, the excessively male population of the colony of NSW, and at the same time save the women from a life of deprivation and depredation in their famine-starved homeland.
The women pass the time on their long voyage, confined to the one cabin, sharing stories of their individual backgrounds; alliances are formed and break down, fights are fought and resolved, love blossoms and wilts and, as Sydney Town comes into sight, an unrealistic optimistic camaraderie is formed.
End of play.
Now, let us consider the performance of the play directed by Jordan Best.
The set consists of the interior of what purports to be a cabin on a nineteenth-century sailing ship – with a drape of sails hovering in the background and a patch of open deck – surrounded, incidentally, not by a sturdy, sea-faring timber railing but by a couple of limp strands of rope to lend it a nautical air.
The cabin is unexpectedly spacious and well-lit for such accommodations of the time, comfortable and clean to the point of sterility.  There is one obligatory rat event, one bout of sea-sickness and one raging storm – otherwise the women get along quite comfortably.
They are played by Phoebe Heath, Eliza Jennings, Isabel Burton, Joanna Richards and Natasha Vickery.
They are provided with a standard, modest, dull blue/grey costume over voluminous period petticoats and bloomers, which never changes throughout the voyage.  They have identical footwear – short boots with zippers up the side, which some even wear to bed. Really.
What did these people do on this long voyage, other than tell their stories, talk, squabble, etc.? Did they not eat, sew, embroider, read, play cards? One might expect, also, that over the length of the voyage, individual tastes might have resulted in the occasional  colourful decoration – a shawl here, a girdle or a bow there which, incidentally, might have made it easier to differentiate between the characters.
This problem is accentuated by the uniformity of the actors' well-represented harsh Belfast brogue, the lack of vocal projection and the rapidity with which the lines are delivered. Lest this be taken as gratuitous negative criticism, let me commend the ensemble nature of their corporate performance; but even this has its downside in that, in behaving 'naturally' towards each other, their conversations stay within the group, to the exclusion of the audience.
This would not present a problem were this a film, with the use of close-ups, cut-aways, etc. but on stage you have to make compromises. You have to project.
This is a disappointing play, with a disappointing production lacking in attention to detail by the new Echo Theatre company, supported by the Queanbeyan-Palerang Regional Council.
Despite the Earl Grey's best charitable intentions for the Belfast girls, and Council's commitment to the promotion of professional theatrical opportunities for women, this play is not my cup of tea.