Prolific local playwright Alana Valentine’s new play ‘Parramatta Girls’ was a tough but life affirming play about a tough subject matter.
Valentine’s play dramatises the real life stories of ex-inmates from the defunct women’s correctional institution, the Girls Training School (GTS). The dramatist was inspired to write about these women’s experiences after seeing a television documentary about the group on television in 2003. The Girls Training School was in operation from 1912 as a home for abandoned, at risk and uncontrollable girls, both indigenous and non-indigenous, under the age of 18. The School was finally closed down in 1974.
‘Parramatta Girls’ is adroitly framed around a 40 year reunion of the School’s ex inmates. During the play there is a regular shift between the goings on at the real-time reunion and some of the experiences at the time in the School.
Wesley Enoch directed Valentine’s play for Belvoir Street’s Company B’s main season. Enoch’s production brings this strange, dark but resilient world that the Parramatta Girls lived in, vividly to life for audiences to experience.
There some lovely Enoch touches. One that comes to mind is when the women are gathered together in a group and talking about the times during their internment when they were assaulted. As each woman recounts her story, Leah Purcell opens a book she’s carrying, and when the assault is described she evocatively shuts the book.
The play had some strong dramatic moments none more so than the scene when the inmates stage a prison riot after the frustration has got too much for them. The riot is explosively staged with chairs and papers flying everywhere, and one of the girls on top of the landing, creating havoc.
The production evoked much of the atmosphere of hard institutional life. The women talked about the School Doctor who they used to call Dr Fingers, who was always feeling inmates up. Then there was the paranoia about using the showers because of the guards perving.
Enoch won strong performances from the cast. The actors had much to play with as a result of Valentine’s well drawn and very individual characters. My pick of the performances…Carole Skinner as tough nut Judi who, at one time, described how she gave sexual favours to one of the guards so she could score some smokes. Leah Purcell gave a good performance as Marlene who goes into the School a bit of a softie but soon hardens up!
Genevieve Hegney stood out in a fine performance as Maree, and she got to show off her great singing voice. Valerie Bader gave a poignant performance as Lynette , the most sensitive of the group, who found the reunion difficult because it brought up a lot of trauma from her experiences at the School. The always reliable Jeanette Cronin played earthy Melanie.
Ralph Myers designed the very effective set, replicating the old School. Alice Babidge desgned the costumes, and Rachel Burke lit the stage.