There’s nothing quite like an open door to pique your interest. Typically in the theatre when an actor exits through a door you’re left wondering about the world that exists beyond it. As The Lost Story of the Magdalen Asylum began on opening night, I can’t tell you the quiet joy I experienced as we watched an old woman slowly make her way to the convent door and disappear inside it, to then find ourselves ushered through to follow in her exact footsteps. It’s a rare privilege to know a character with that level of intimacy.
There is much to like about this tightly directed production. It’s part walking history tour of the beautiful and intriguing Abbotsford convent, part physical theatre, part puppet theatre, and more. The Lost Story of the Magdalen Asylum pays homage to the lives of the countless penitents and postulants who lived at the convent for more than a hundred years. It loosely follows the story of one such penitent, Rose Lawler (1875-1926), now the convent’s caretaker and our guide for the evening. Carole Patullo is a marvel as the guileless Rose. As she leads her willing followers deeper and deeper into the crumbling bricks and mortar of the convent, you find yourself becoming more and more enamoured by her and by her story.
Patullo is paired with Teresa Blake who, in playing various roles, shows what an astonishingly good physical theatre/circus performer she is. Her walking handstand (while speaking, mind you) on an outdoor flight of stairs is a wonder. Her command of the physicality of all the characters she embodies is inspiring. Although her vocals are no match to Patullo’s, Blake’s performance as a bird is truly beautiful.
Peepshow Inc are well known for evocative productions that engage the senses and The Lost Story of the Magdalen Asylum is undoubtedly a feast for them. The use of the spaces is brilliant and the ease with which Patullo and Blake manoeuvre the audience through narrow places, up and down stairs, even closing us in a pitch black room is impressive. The design and effects are breathtaking in places. What happens in that pitch black room reduced me to tears, as did the image of the ever-smiling Rose as an imprisoned ghost towards the end. The visually stunning penultimate scene uses an effect with an old chair I’ve never seen in the theatre before, something quite extraordinary in its effectiveness and simplicity. The final scene finds you standing in the chilly night air in front of one the most magnificent trees you’re ever likely to see and it’s hard to stop smiling.
It’s a privilege to both see so much of the convent that isn’t normally open to the public, and to experience an eerie, intriguing, and highly evocative interpretation of what life might have been like in those years (and what its ghosts might be up to now).
I strongly recommend you see The Lost Story of the Magdalen Asylum, it may well be the highlight of the Festival.
Peepshow Inc presents
The Lost Story of the Magdalen Asylum
by Kylie Trounson
Director Melinda Hetzel
Venue: Abbotsford Convent | St. Heliers St, Abbotsford
Dates: 11 Sept – 2 Oct, 2010
Times: Tue – Thu 7:30pm, Fri –Sat 7:30pm & 9:30pm
Tickets: $30 full/$25 conc. (inc. booking fee) Preview $20
Bookings: 9660 9666 | melbournefringe.com.au
PLEASE NOTE: This walking tour involves stairs, uneven surfaces, dark spaces and some outdoor areas. Please wear sturdy footwear and weather-wise clothing.