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Review: All the Lovely Magdalenes at Bakehouse Theatre

By Carly Fisher

Organised in a semi-circle formation and dressed in matching attire – a long blue dress with a white apron on top – a group of young girls stand ready on stage as the audience enters the Bakehouse theatre. All the Lovely Magdalenes has been composed and written by co-star Clare Steele with contributions from the cast. Directed by George Franklin, these young women represent the Scrambled Prince Theatre Company – a youth touring company based at Eltham High School in Victoria.

After an initial song, we see a mother farewell her daughter, Daisy, as she is taken away by an officer to the care of a nun who informs her that she will now go by Edith. Now-Edith is left in the care of a fellow young girl, Olivia, who introduces her to both the other girls, the work that they must complete and the place in general. ‘What is this place?!’ Edith questions through the concerned and frightened voice she can muster up. Scrubbing the floors, washing sheets by hand in buckets and then drying and folding the sheets, the girls are hard at work under the watchful eye of the nuns.

Based on Ireland’s Magdalene Laundries for ‘fallen women,’ All the Lovely Magdalenes references the slave-like conditions, the torture and abuse of these young girls and the removal of babies from their mothers. The Irish laundries became infamous world wide after mass graves of children and coercion was discovered. Similar institutions could be found around Australia and Steele has chosen to focus on the stories of Melbourne’s Magdalenes – stripped of their identity, sold to slavery, forced to sign any children they birthed to the state and made to work for a minimum of three years to pay off their debts to society.

The story is powerful and this troupe of young performers should be commended for taking on this hard story and bringing light to a difficult part of Melbourne’s history.

The execution of this piece from a directorial stand point doesn’t quite stand up to many of the other fringe works around town. Much of the choreographed movement and slow, drawn speaking seemed contrived and the story could have been more engaging for the audience if more moments of light and shade had been explored, and if the director had played more with pace. At times too the volume was just overwhelming, especially from our seats closer to the front of the audience, and again, playing with this, especially during the songs, could have added to the heart break and drama of the piece.

The young women who make up the cast did a great job at committing to their characters and bringing attention to the pain and suffering of the Magdalenes. For a troupe of high school aged performers, the performance is a credit to their hard work and talent.

Most impressive to me is the phenomenal program that Eltham High School offers – what a fabulous opportunity for young students to tour the country to share important stories and develop both their talent, but more importantly, their passion for the performing arts.

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All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.


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