Open Door Theatre returned to Garter Lane to present an uncomfortable slice of our recent past with the acclaimed Patricia Burke Brogan’s play Eclipsed, about the Magdalene Laundry abuse and scandal. An eight woman cat over twelve scenes recreated the pain and shame of the treatment young women suffered because they had babies outside of wedlock and also showed how their own families put them in these penal institutions out of a social cowardice and some warped notion of sin and penance.
The production was often hesitant, slow and ponderous with a lack of sharpness in scene changes and general stage setting but the strong spine of the work still managed to strike home a very poignant and shameful message.
Rigid structures, blind obedience, lack of humanity, lack of decency, autocratic nuns, pampered bishops, honest but sometimes bitter girls told their story within a pervading sense of penance and imposed redemption.
The girls in the laundry brought a lot of life and pointed fun to the story and the running song from Elvis – ever since my baby left me (Heartbreak Hotel) – as girls danced and romanced, then got bitter and despairing and the wicked parodies of Hell and Bishops struck home to a receptive audience.
Bronagh Mullen was great as the feisty Brigid Murphy who mimicked the great and not-so-good. She cut through the pace and made her presence felt. Brenda Nolan, Eadaoin O’Connell and Paula Byrne brought out other individual aspects of these abandoned girls.
Anne Campbell as the older wiser earth mother Nellie-Nora shone out like a beacon of kindness and she also directed the actors with sensitivity and skill. Edel Finnegan was fine as the girl Rosa/Caroline who came back to find out about the mother who abandoned her and her role book-ends the production.
Caroline Larkin was an excellent choice as the young nun, Sister Virginia, caught between feelings of humanity and blind obedience. Mary Delaney presented the always-certain authoritarian Mother Victoria whose inflexibility cut to the heart of the play. The Mother’s lines about protecting girls from their passions and sins of the flesh staying in the blood for seven generations had such impact and thanks to the author and others like Open Door Theatre such tragedies will be remembered for at least seven more.