It’s Now or Never for Elvis and the ladies of the Magdalene laundries at St Albans’ Abbey Theatre


Eclipsed - Credit: Archant

Elvis Presley and the infamous Magdalene laundries - the two do not seem obvious bedfellows.

But in the Company of Ten’s next production Eclipsed, Elvis will be in the building - in this case the Abbey Theatre Studio - where a number of his songs will feature.

Eclipsed by Patricia Burke Brogan tells the story of four “penitent” women, effectively imprisoned to work in a convent-run laundry, for their “sin” of having a child while unmarried.

Abandoned by their relatives or carers, young girls were condemned to many years of back- breaking work, unpaid, poorly fed, and often treated cruelly by the nuns to whom they were entrusted.

As a means of coping with their terrible situation, the characters in this play let their imaginations run riot. One of the girls, Mandy, played by Maria Wheeler, has an obsession with Elvis. The women use his songs to escape from the drudgery of their lives.

At one point they even stage a make-believe wedding between Mandy and Elvis in Las Vegas.

Director Nick Strudwick said, “Everyone has particularly enjoyed learning and performing the song sequences, which are an integral part of Eclipsed. Assistant Director, Jill Priest, who also plays one of the “penitents”, Nellie Nora, has been an inspiration, devising innovative choreography and musical arrangements. Some use recorded Elvis tracks, and some are sung live.”

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Jill, who gives her own Elvis impression in one scene, explained, “The play is set for the most part in 1963, when Elvis was “King”. His songs contrast sharply with the formal choral music of the Catholic Church.

“For one sequence, we have merged the two styles. The girls sing It’s Now or Never acapella (without accompaniment), in the style of a Gregorian Chant. It has proved extremely moving.”

She added: “Eclipsed is very poignant, particularly because it is based on true experiences that took place not that long ago. Yet, despite their bleak outlook, there are many moments of laughter and tenderness between the women.”

Performances take place in the Abbey Theatre Studio at 8pm tomorrow and Saturday nights (22/23) and from next Tuesday, January 26, until Saturday, January 30. There is also a 2.30pm matinee this Sunday (23).

Tickets are available from here or call the box office on 01727 857861.