Parramatta Girls is based on real stories from former inmates of the Girls’ Training School, Parramatta, a female juvenile detention centre that existed between 1887 and the mid 1970s in which thousands of young women – ranging from wards of the state to delinquents – were detained.
The action shifts in time between the women at the reunion and scenes of their experiences as young inmates. Valentine depicts the obscene violence and degradation of the young women in this juvenile institution – a place where non-indigenous and indigenous inmates were treated equally harshly – “there was no black and white, just black and blue”.
Valentine goes beyond documenting their brutal treatment to celebrate the women’s resilience. She also makes it clear that none of them were untouched by their early experiences which have reverberated throughout their lives. As grown women they are, for the most part, hard as nails, yet achingly vulnerable.
Valentine explores how individuals cope with sexual, physical and psychological trauma and the irreparable damage institutionalisation does to young people (or anyone, for that matter). The stoical, larrikin humour of the characters belies the emotional damage they have endured. In the harsh environment of the home, most girls quickly toughened up in order to survive. Others broke down and, if they were lucky, were released.
Director Wesley Enoch and the uniformly powerful, faultless ensemble – Valerie Bader, Leah Purcell, Carol Skinner, Lisa Flanagan, Jeanette Cronin, Annie Byron, Genevieve Hegney and Roxanne McDonald – make the most of Valentine’s finely written script.
The characters’ humour and resilience undercuts any potential for sentimentality in the script. Nevertheless, their pain and psychological scars are conveyed clearly and directly by the actors. And this is definitely an actors’ piece.
The muted honesty of Roxanne McDonald’s Coral, the tragedy of Genevieve Hegney’s Maree, the fragility of Annie Byron’s Gayle and the desperation of Lisa Flanagan’s Kerry are all insightfully performed. Valerie Bader’s enthralling portrayal as the broken Lynette and Leah Purcell’s transition from terrified innocent into the defiant leader of the uprising are both immensely moving.
The toughest girls: Judi (the redoubtable, gravel voiced, Carol Skinner) and Melanie (Jeanette Cronin) both develop disturbing ways of coping with their incarceration.
Rachel Burke’s shadowy lighting design, Steve Francis’ evocative soundscape and Ralph Myers’ dusty and dilapidated set conjures the bleakness of the girls’ lives.
This is an important contemporary Australian story which deserved to be told for documentary and redemptive purposes. That it is such a well crafted work, given a dramatically moving production by Wesley Enoch and his cast, makes it very good theatre to boot.
Company B Presents
by Alana Valentine
Venue: Belvoir St Theatre | 25 Belvoir St, Surry Hills
Dates: 22 March - 22 April 2007
Previews: Saturday 17 March at 8pm, Sunday 18 March at 5pm. All preview tickets $32.
Opening Night: Wednesday 21 March at 8pm
Times: Tuesday 6.30pm, Wednesday to Friday 8pm, Saturday 2pm & 8pm, Sunday 5pm.
Tickets: Full $52. Seniors (excluding Fri/Sat evenings) & Groups 10+ $44. Concession $32
Under 27: $32 tickets for Tuesday 6.30pm available from 10am on the day (subject to availability).
Bookings: (02) 9699 3444 or www.belvoir.com.au