Eclipsed to give view of life inside the Magdalene laundries at Town Hall

ATHENRY’S ECLIPSE Theatre Company come to the Town Hall next week with their debut production which, appropriately enough, is a staging of Patricia Burke Brogan’s powerful play about the Magdalene laundries, Eclipsed.

The play is directed by company co-founder Robbie Gallagher whose stage experience goes back to the 1970s with Dramsoc in NUI, Galway where his colleagues included the future founders of Druid.

“I was in Dramsoc with Garry Hynes, Marie Mullen, and Sean McGinley,” he recalls. “I even gave Sean McGinley his first ever acting role in a show I directed for Dramsoc. They all went on to form Druid afterwards but I stayed active on the amateur circuit in the years since then, both as actor and director.”

Last August, Gallagher and Mike Kelly formed Eclipse, choosing the name because of a lunar eclipse that occurred at the time and then deciding that Eclipsed would be a fitting choice as their debut production.

“We approached Patricia Burke Brogan about doing the play and she graciously gave her consent,” he says. “Furthermore, she has agreed to be our writer in residence for the year so after Eclipsed we’ll be staging her other plays, Requiem Of Love and Stained Glass at Samhain.”

Eclipsed was first staged in 1992 by Galway’s Punchbag Theatre Company when it won a Fringe First at Edinburgh. Since then it has received 74 productions on three continents and is currently being translated into Japanese for a new production.

The play is set in 1963 in a convent laundry at St Paul’s Home for Penitent Women in Killmacha, Ireland. Eclipsed explores the practice of making pregnant and unwed Irish mothers work as ‘penitents’ in Church-run laundries. Supervised by nuns who regarded these women as mindless vessels of evil, the women were treated as virtual slaves and their infants were forcibly put up for adoption.

The recent publication of the Ryan Report into Church-run institutions adds this latest staging of the play an added topicality.

“That’s true,” Gallagher acknowledges. “However the play itself isn’t anti-religious and while there are strong scenes in it there are also moments of hilarity in its depiction of life at the laundry. Patricia wrote the play to give a voice to women who, prior to this, were not allowed to have one. Part of the reason we wanted to do it is that it hasn’t been done very often here and it definitely merits being seen again.”

Cast members include Niamh Linnane - who features in The Tudors - as Nellie Nora, the institutionalised girl resigned to her fate. Maggie Kilcoyne plays Rosa, Sharon Kearney plays the feisty Bridget. Niamh McNicholas plays Elvis-mad Mandy and Ruth Pokall plays the would-be-escapee Cathy. Michelle Devlin plays Juliet. Playing the nuns are Ilona Gilbert as the Reverend Mother and Imelda Reynolds as Sr Virginia, torn between her sympathy for the women and her vows of obedience to her order.

Eclipsed is at the Town Hall for one night only on Monday June 8 at 8pm. For tickets contact 091 - 569777.

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