Anybody who knows the subject matter of this play knows that it is not an easy read or watch. It is, however, incredibly powerful and poignant, and more relevant in 2017 than we might like to admit.
Eclipsed juxtaposes the swinging 60’s musical and sexual revolution with the horrors of Ireland’s ‘Magdalene laundries’ which imprisoned “immoral” women and used them for slave labour. Ireland, with its heavily Catholic culture was somewhat left behind in the global sexual awakening of that era, which is highlighted in the characters who long to travel to the USA and meet handsome Elvis Presley. The nation still has women’s rights issues today, with conformist governments refusing to legalise abortions and traditionalist parties such as the DUP gaining more power. While this historical work spotlights the specific suffering of the ‘Maggies,’ almost every woman in the world can relate to the shaming and control from a system of power.
I can’t think of a more fitting venue for Eclipsed than The Space on the Isle of Dogs. The converted church provides an intimate setting which allows the audience to become part of the laundry and its draped sheets, and the high ceilings are ideal for the chilling choral vocals. Music is a large part of the production, adding intensity to emotional scenes and much needed humour.
We meet the inmates of the laundry almost immediately, many who have had their children taken away from them – fiery Brigit, lovable Elvis-mad Mandy, friendly Nellie Nora and Cathy who is in poor physical health. However it’s the character of Sister Virginia that we can invest in most; a young nun who dares to ask questions about how the laundry is run and shows empathy to the ostracised women. Throughout the story she struggles with how the church exploits the female prisoners whilst men who commit the same sins are free to live a normal life.
Watching the production unfold, I was reminded of The Handmaid’s Tale and how the TV revival has sparked conversation all over the world. The traumas endured by women in the fictional dystopian future are parallel to the inmates of the Magdalene laundries – these women were property of the state, rounded up for behaving inappropriately in the eyes of God and kept against their will as their babies were snatched away from them. The last laundry shut just 20 years ago in Ireland following two centuries of abuse for profit, so Eclipsed is a rude awakening that this kind of needless suffering is a lot closer to home than we believe.
The producers knew that this was the perfect time to revive Eclipsed. They said of the play, “Every woman can relate to the trials of Brogan’s characters and be reminded that despite society’s illusion of control, she is powerless.” There is no holding back in this production, with the entire cast putting on a memorable and moving performance – of course, the fact that the play is based on true events makes it even more emotional. There could have been a few less static moments, and the performers could have made us believe in their washing and folding techniques a little more, but overall it was a strong and convincing display.
The women behind FilthyCOW Theatre aimed to do Brogan’s work justice, and in this intimate staging they achieve what they came here to do.
Eclipsed played at The Space until September 2.