Ceara Dorman’s one woman play poignantly explores the abuse that countless women were subject to within the Magdalene laundries. The hour-long piece conveys the traumatic experiences so many underwent as a result of the all-powerful Catholic church that pervaded Irish society.
An extremely moving, informative, and thought-provoking play.
These women, often too young to be referred to as ‘women’, suffered relentlessly at the hands of the clandestine institution. Dorman effectively uses sheets to represent the toil of the laundries. The audience is initially lulled into a sense of security by Dorman, as she playfully wraps herself up in the sheet. But as she monotonously folds them, exhaustion overwhelms, and with it an undertone of sexual abuse. This encapsulates and introduces the purpose of the ‘fallen women’ – a ready source of free labour that bolstered profits for the Catholic church in Ireland.
Dorman then takes on the role of vulnerable and youthful Teresa. She is subject to the cold and callous Mother Ignatius, purely because she happens to be the ‘devils spawn’. Mother Ignatius, appearing wholly irredeemable until the end of the play, serves to represent those darker reaches of Catholic control. Dorman commendably expresses this without subjecting the audience to sweeping ideological assertions.
She constantly juggles multiple narratives. We are introduced to other women – Immaculata, condemned and consigned to the convent for her beauty, and youthful Elizabeth, born out of wedlock. Both attempt to challenge the Authority. Immaculata plans to shove her fingers in the ‘fat nun’s faces’ – which elicits a ripple of laughter amidst the horror. Equally, Elizabeth, naïve and defenceless, suddenly musters the courage to defy the supreme nun. Utter despair and hopelessness take over as Rose, Immaculata’s friend, falls to her death, clinging to those same sheets. Any remnants of the audience’s own faith in these women’s ability to escape is finally foregone. Immaculata’s feistiness crumples, and with that all remnants of her independence.
Dorman artfully embodies each and every character, and never falls into crude physical generalisations which can often be pitfalls of one-person plays and multi-rolling. The ever-changing perspectives are only made clear by Dorman’s varying physicality, making the characters distinct, with Immaculata’s ‘depraved’ hair-down state contrasting Elizabeth’s virginal plait. Despite this, the change between characters was at times poorly signposted. Rose’s scene with her son confusingly unfolds after her death. Nevertheless, despite this structural flaw, perhaps this serves to strengthen the piece. From Immaculata’s unholy (yet God-given) Molly Malone beauty, to Rose, the simple unmarried mother, and the opposite extreme of a child, the piece became all the more harrowing.
The play reached no definitive conclusion in relation to the horrific experiences these women underwent. Dorman could be forgiven for extracting a clear cut ‘evil’ amidst such atrocities. She did not, and boldly chose to humanise Mother Ignatius, who, like her victims, was a ‘product’ of her time.
Aside from Dorman, I was left wondering how the musicians, Ben Ramsden and Anna Bradley-Scott, might be best utilised. The music held the piece together and was instrumental in its success, yet the pair were uncomfortably engaged in the action. Was this an intended effect? They should either have fully immersed themselves or been oblivious to the action. They did neither and this was distracting. Nevertheless, this was a small blemish that appeared insignificant in the face of an extremely moving, informative, and thought-provoking play.