Eclipsed and the world of the Magdalen Laundry

Writer Patricia Burke Brogan and director Niall Cleary (front) with the cast of Eclipsed; Margaret O’Sullivan, Catherine Denning, Siobhán Donnellan, Caroline Lynch, Edel McGrath, Zita Monahan, Emma O’Grady, and Liz Quinn; pictured during rehearsals for Mephisto’s production of Eclipsed by Patricia Burke Brogan. Pic:- Mike Shaughnessy

Writer Patricia Burke Brogan and director Niall Cleary (front) with the cast of Eclipsed; Margaret O’Sullivan, Catherine Denning, Siobhán Donnellan, Caroline Lynch, Edel McGrath, Zita Monahan, Emma O’Grady, and Liz Quinn; pictured during rehearsals for Mephisto’s production of Eclipsed by Patricia Burke Brogan. Pic:- Mike Shaughnessy

GALWAY THEATREGOERS are in for a treat next week with a new staging of Patricia Burke Brogan’s Eclipsed from Mephisto Theatre Company.

The production will be directed by Niall Cleary and the cast is Teresa Brennan, Catherine Denning, Siobhán Donnellan, Caroline Lynch, Zita Monahan, Emma O’Grady, Margaret O’Sullivan, and Liz Quinn.

First performed by Punchbag in 1992, Eclipsed is a powerful drama that sheds light on the lives of the women of the Magdalen Laundries. It won a Fringe First at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and was revived successfully at the Town Hall Theatre in 1998. There have been more than 60 productions of the play since its premiere.

Mephisto has been producing work in Galway since 2006. Past productions at the Town Hall include The Mai by Marina Carr, The Honey Spike by Bryan MacMahon, and Grenades by Tara McKevitt.

Now audiences can again experience this gripping story, not through newspaper headlines or radio reports, but through the characters of the eight women whose lives converge at the Magdalene Laundry at Killmacha.

Here is Sr Virginia, who struggles to obey. Mother Victoria is watching her, watching everyone, including Cathy who has failed yet again to escape. But Cathy will keep trying: her children are close by in the orphanage. Nellie-Nora reads tea leaves and resigns herself to a hidden life. Mandy dreams of marrying Elvis, but Brigit fights like a tigress to find her baby.

That baby is Rosa, who traces her mother to the laundry 30 years later. And though the laundry is closed and dusty the wounds are still raw, the humour is still dark, the spirit is still fighting.

Emma O’Grady from Mephisto says: “We are delighted to be working with so many talented female actors, some of whom people will remember from our previous productions. Margaret O’Sullivan played Grandma Fraochlán, Caroline Lynch played in The Mai, and Siobhán Donnellan played Connie in our production of The Mai last year. Zita Monahan appeared as Winnie in The Honey Spike in 2011. We are also excited to be working with Niall Cleary who has directed a number of great productions here in Galway.”

Caroline Lynch who plays the role of Mother Victoria, explains how the company chose the play.

“Firstly it has a lot of strong roles for women which we like as we have a lot of good actresses,” she said. “Secondly it is by a Galway playwright, and thirdly it seemed timely to put it on stage again now the McAleese Report has been issued and how the story of the Magdalenes was back in the news.”

It is the company’s first time working with director Niall Cleary.

“Myself and Emma had seen his work and felt we would work well together,” Lynch says. “It has been great so far, we’re enjoying working together.”

Lynch describes how she is essaying the challenging role of the stern mother superior.

“It has been interesting working on the role, she is by far the least sympathetic character in the play,” she admits. “Mother Victoria is the one who watches over everyone and keeps control over them all and never really displays any sympathy or empathy for the women’s situation.

“At the same time when you are trying to play such a character you always have to find a connection to them, to find a reason why they are behaving the way they do and make them human so she is not just a villainous caricature. I look at her as a product of a system, she has been 30 years in the convent, she has been living under a strict regime herself for a very long time, and over the years she has come to accept that this is how things are done and it is the best way for everyone involved.

“She is in control of the women in the laundry but she herself is controlled by the bishop. The only person she seems to have any time for, and respect for, is the bishop. She is constantly talking about him, even though she doesn’t realise it, she is being used in the same way that the women in the laundry are.”

The play has made a long journey, one that parallels that of the Magdalen women in ways. It was one of the first works to lift the veil on their story and this latest staging arrives just as they are finally receiving restitution from the State.

“I never pushed it,” author Patricia Burke Brogan tells me, “it made its own way. It is being translated into Japanese now so it is still finding audiences internationally.

“It is a harrowing play, written with feeling and power and grappling with some dark truths about life in Ireland that were concealed for too long,” wrote The Irish Times about the play and Eclipsed’s power is undimmed 21 years since its premiere.

The play runs at the Town Hall from Thursday August 22 to Saturday 31 with a preview on Wednesday 21. Tickets are available from the Town Hall on 091 - 569777 and www.tht.ie Mephisto is also presenting David Harrower’s Blackbird in October during the Galway Theatre Festival.

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