By Gabriel Faatau’uu-Satiu
Parramatta Girls is a dramatised account of the real life stories of ex-inmates of the Girls Training School (GTS), Parramatta - this was conducted by interviews which writer, Alana Valentine signed authority for, in her research. This iteration by the Liverpool Performing Arts Ensemble (LPAE) at the Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre was Nicoleta Marangou’s directorial debut. The all-female ensemble consists of 8 fictitious characters, playing several different inmates; Nicki James as Lynette, Madeleine Jurd as Maree, Karen Breeden as Coral, Allison Brown as Judi, Deirdre Campbell as Gayle, Christina Donoghue as Marlene, Thalia Skopellos as Kerry and Britt Yates as Melanie.
The story begins in the present day, years after the institution was closed down as the inmates are invited to return for a reunion - which in my personal opinion seems bizarre seeing the trauma they each experienced. As the, now-older girls, re-enter the doors of (GTS), the play is told in vignettes of different events by each of the cast members. Their stories each consist of one or several traumatic things including beatings, isolation, sexual abuse, but, on a lighter note there appears to be an underlying theme of sisterhood and solidarity. The show is very much so told in the past, however, when reflected upon in the future, each of the characters share how their experiences as inmates have impacted the women they’ve become in the future. In one scene, we learn that the girls in the future have beaten their children to release the anger they’ve built up in the walls of the institution.
Main highlights for the show were definitely the acting chops of these ladies. Their ability to cry on cue to emphasise and invest in the raw emotional distraught in their character arcs was incredible. This is obviously detrimental to the authenticity of the written story. But, this is also no doubt a credit to Marangou’s acting experience and its usefulness to her debut as a director too. These skills were highlighted in the characters played by Jurd, Campbell and Donoghue; each of them offering layers of vulnerability highlighting various facets of the characters they portrayed, however fell short in the others. Other mentionables were the characters played by Yates and Breeden, however, the latter often played the wide emotional scale to one note.
The show overall (including intermission) was 165mins (2hrs 45mins), but could have been shortened, provided that the transitions between each of the scenes were at some points, unnecessarily lengthy, losing the audience's attention span (well mine at least). There was also very minimal sound scope (designed by Thalia Skopellos) and in some scenes where anticipation was building, lacked emphasis and relied solely on the actors, which I don’t think was fair to
them. And lastly, the biggest let-down of the show was the lighting design by John Brown which could have benefitted from some support and a second opinion. A harsh green light was used to draw a line between what was told in the present, versus what was told in the past, focusing on the latter. All it did for me personally, was resemble a swamp, Shrek and Princess Fiona - which again is not fair on the actors and real-life characters these stories stem from. And my least favourite and most awkward scene to witness on stage was a riot, led by the ensemble to literally tear and burn the institution down after months/years of institutionalised/racist/uncivilised torture toward the inmates. This scene hit the peak of the climax of the show, but was let down by the lack of sound/lighting support as it would have benefitted with special lighting effects, sound scopes of sirens, howls and crashes.
Lastly, I want to address the authenticity of this story. As a POC, as a scriptwriter and as an emerging playwright myself. The stories which I write, honour and pay homage to authentic stories which aren’t portrayed in mainstream media/platforms about my community. The reason I write stem from misrepresentation from years of colonial ideologies. Having read that Parramatta Girls, was written based on real life inmates (mostly from the stolen indigenous generation) says something about society today.
I may have been very critical of some of the critique offered in this review, but I want indigenous/POC to know and be held more accountable for the portrayal and decisions when telling/making stories. Nonetheless, I have lots of respect for Marangou and taking on the challenge for showcasing this beast-of-a-story (especially in her debut). I was disappointed to hear that only 1 cast member was indigenous, and it made me wonder if this review would be seen differently if there were more. What it does tell me though, that I myself, Marangou and other indigenous/POC storytellers/writers/artists need to continue telling our stories to honour those that have paved a way for our generation today.
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.