4-16 November 2019
Parramatta Girls by Alana Valentine
- Lisa Berry – Marlene
- Terry Roseburgh – Lynette
- Karen Long – Melanie
- Georgie Powell – Maree
- Danielle Rowarth – Judi
- Lynne Elphinston-Gray – Coral
- Sindi Renea – Gayle
- Debra Shaw – Kerry
Director / Producer – Zina Carman
Stage Manager – Teresa Stipcevich
Assistant S/M – Andie Dennis
Set Design – Zina Carman, George Carman, Michael Baker
Set Build – Michael Baker, Fred Preston, George Carman, Andrew Gaylard
Painting Design – June Marks
Set Painting – June Marks, George Carman, Michael Lambkin
Costumes – Monica Spencer
Lighting Design / Operation – Fred Preston
Sound Design / Operation – Ethan Cook
Properties – Barb Rindfleisch
Singing coach – Erika Turner
Photography – Fred Preston
Front of House Manager – Barb Rindfleisch
Publicity – Gay Bell, Praveen Petrack, Debra Shaw
Foyer – Zina Carman, Barb Rindfleisch
Poster – Teresa Stipcevich
Program – Lisa Berry
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REVIEW by Colin Mockett, Entertainment Geelong
Theatrical exposure of dark secrets
Parramatta Girls directed by Zina Carman for Torquay Theatre Troupe, Price St Theatre, Torquay, November 4, 2019.
It was a brave decision by director Zina Carman to stage this play set in Sydney’s Parrammatta Girls Home in the 1960s at Torquay’s Price St Theatre. The cosy atmosphere with pre-show drinks and interval tea and biscuits sat in stark contrast to the dark stories of sexual and physical abuse to girls aged between 13 and 16, that she was unfolding.
Theatrically, it was more than brave – courageous and foolhardy, perhaps – for her to ask eight mostly middle-aged white female actors to depict those girls, three of whom were indigenous. Added to this, one of her actors was making her stage debut, another was returning after a 20-year hiatus and a third after taking a two-year break. Some would say the director’s decision appeared more than brave, it was foolhardy.
More so given that previous performances of Parramatta Girls since its 2006 debut had been criticised for playwright Alana Valentine’s jumpy ‘cut and paste’ methods when using the real testimony of the institute’s surviving girls.
But I’m here to tell you that despite all of the above, this flawed production of Parramatta Girls was extraordinarily effective.
That was because it carried the most powerful message of any play that has appeared on our stages this year. I could argue that for many, many years previously, too.
And it was that use of white middle-aged actors to mouth the real words of aboriginal girls after being abused by their white male warders that gave this play such potency.
For in the cosy Torquay Theatre, (which is really a borrowed Senior Citizens Centre with notices on the wall advertising U3A classes and coach outings to the Chocolate Cafe) were stories being enacted that made the #metoo allegations against Harvey Weinstein appear almost innocuous.
Those harrowing stories of systematic intimate abuse seemed to take on more impact because they were delivered in Karen Long’s gentle Irish, Danielle Rowarth’s muted Kiwi or Terry Roseburgh’s refined US accents. They were enhanced by Lisa Berry and Sindi Renea’s sympathetic acting skills and by Lynne Elphinston-Gray’s inborn dignity. Then they were strengthened by Debra Shaw’s recognisable frailty and Georgie Powell’s youthful vulnerability.
So that jumpily erratic script, occasional slow scene-shifting and first-night fluffs – along with the actors incongruity – were completely overlooked by this production’s packed premiere audience who sat in awed silence throughout. Until the end, that was, when they burst into appreciative applause.
As we left, one woman asked her friend in hushed tones “how many times have they got to do that? It must be traumatic for them.” She was talking about the actors. I was wondering what the real Parramatta girls would have thought…
I do recommend that you go see this Parramatta Girls and take the opportunity to look past the obvious and see one of Australia’s darkest secrets exposed to the sort of cleansing exposure that only theatre can provide.
– Colin Mockett
The play was staged as a reunion of eight former-inmates of the Parramatta Girls Home – now grown women – in 2003, forty years after they finished their respective terms.
It moved between the present (the reunion) and the remembered past (in flashbacks).
The play opens in the courtyard of the Home, November 2003. The women begin to arrive at the reunion, (some more tense than others), and congregate outside the institution’s iron gates.
When they step through the gates, the audience is taken on a journey between the past and present as the women explore the building. In flashbacks, the girls re-enact each other’s experiences at the home: their arrival (and the court trial that brought Marlene there), their medical examinations by ‘Dr Fingers’, their chores, their abuses and mistreatments – sometimes by invisible guards, sometimes to one another and sometimes in acts of self-harm.
As the play comes to a crescendo in the second Act, the past and present merge on-stage. Two of the girls attempt to escape the institution and their torment, but after being told that a particularly dangerous guard is after then, they climb to the roof of the Home and refuse to come down. A riot ensues, involving all the girls but comes to an end when tragedy strikes the group.
The grown women are left to clean up the mess of the riot (their literal past), which clears a path for the women to come together, to open up, and to reveal harboured secrets, lies, and truths and “wash away” (some of) their past. This activity leads to the end of the play, and the women ask that their stories be remembered and leave the audience with a message of hope for good, for remedy, and for claiming their own futures as women, mothers, and Parramatta Girls.
- Marlene: a 57-year-old indigenous woman and former inmate; she is 13 years old during flashbacks
- Much of the play (especially the flashbacks) happens through Marlene’s eyes. She was the youngest of the eight to enter the Home after being charged with “neglect” and “mental retardation”.
- Judi: a 59-year-old woman and former inmate; she is 16 years old during flashbacks
- Her real name is Fay McKell. She reveals that she allowed the guards to sexually abuse her to feel like she was in control. After leaving, she entered prostitution and acquired an extensive criminal record. She is cynical about the reunion, but eventually sees its value.
- Melanie: a 58-year-old woman and former inmate; she is 15 years old during flashback
- Incarcerated because she ran from her abusive home, she is a protective figure to the other girls throughout the play, especially Marlene.
- Lynette: a 57-year-old woman and former inmate; she is 14 years old during flashbacks
- Hailing from a wealthy Eastern Suburbs family, with a private school education, Lynette’s “posh” upbringing is a contrast to the rest of the women who come from lower-class backgrounds. She is haunted by the death of Maree, her close friend, and experiences deep anxiety throughout the play.
- Kerry: a 58-year-old indigenous woman and former inmate; she is 15 years old during flashbacks
- Kerry has been in institutional care her whole life. She escaped the home but was caught, returned and punished. She tells of her role in having the Home closed down, and that the reunion is her first chance at her story being heard (and believed).
- Gayle: a 59-year-old woman and former inmate; she is 16 years old during flashbacks
- The ‘House Captain’, she experienced a “little bit of power” during her time after living with an emotionally and physically abusive mother and stepfather. She is haunted by memories of the Home’s ‘dungeons’, and her acts of self-harm. Though she treats the girls with disdain, she did protect them when they needed it.
- Maree: a 14-year-old female inmate.
- She is a memory and a ghost – appearing to Lynette and Gayle (as adults). She took her own life in the home after her cruel and traumatic mistreatment.
- Coral: a 58-year-old indigenous women and former inmate; she is 16 years old in flashbacks.
- Adult Coral is one of the organisers of the reunion, she speaks of being impregnated by one of the guards but was brutally bashed in a deliberately attempted abortion. Though she gave birth to the child, it was forcibly removed from her.