Theatre review: Company of Ten show proves spellbinding success


Eclipsed - Credit: Archant

If anyone knows the truth about life in the Magdalene laundries it is St Albans resident Philomena Lee whose story was the basis of the award-winning film Philomena starring Judi Dench and Steve Coogan.

So who better to be sitting next to at a performance of the Company of Ten’s latest production Eclipsed on Tuesday night than Philomena herself.

And it was clear both from her reaction and talking to her afterwards that Patricia Burke Brogan’s play captured much of the hardship in the Irish laundries where fallen women were sent to work after childbirth.

The ceaseless mundanity of their lives as well as the fact that they never saw the children to whom they had given birth is brought compellingly to life in the play, particularly the far darker second act.

Eclipsed focuses primarily on four women who work in a fictional Magdalene laundry and it does not stint from showing what their lives were like. While the first act introduces the women and demonstrates how they try to brighten their lives with particular emphasis on the crush one of their number has on Elvis, it is the second act which sends shivers down the spine.

For that is when several of the women - quite literally - fall apart at their plight, the sheer futility of their existence and the complete lack of hope.

Jill Priest, one of the Company of Ten’s finest actresses, takes the role of Nellie-Nora which requires her to appear in her younger days working in the laundry and then meeting one of the children taken away from the women nearly 30 years later.

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She is one of the women who collapses under the strain in the laundry and she gives a spellbinding performance both then and in the final vignette with Rosa, played by Diana Clutterbuck, who is trying to find out about her mother Brigit.

And it is the rebellious Brigit, a striking performance from Jenny Kilcast, who takes centre stage in every scene in which she appears. She is strongly supported by Beth Wilson’s performance as the chronic asthmatic Cathy and Maria Wheeler’s depiction of Mandy who dreams of finding love with Elvis.

Added to that mix is latecomer Phoebe Greenland as Juliet.

The most chilling aspect of the play can be found in the shape of Mother Victoria, who believes it is God’s will that the women be punished but not the men who impregnated them. Lesley Gordon gives an impressively stern performance in the role, particularly in her scenes with the wavering Sister Virgina played with passion by Eleanor McConnell, who finds herself slated by both the women and her superior.

Nick Strudwick directs Eclipsed and introduces some clever notes, not least the silhouettes of the women behind the curtains as Nellie-Nora and Rosa meet for the first time. All in all, this is a compelling production.

It runs in the Abbey Theatre Studio until Saturday and remaining tickets can be obtained from the box office on 01727 857861 or from here.