Patricia Burke Brogan’s extraordinary play, Eclipsed will be presented in a staged reading at Druid Lane Theatre on Friday, March 8 to mark International Women’s Day.
When Eclipsed premiered in the city’s now defunct Punchbag Theatre 21 years ago, the scandal of Ireland’s Magdalen laundries was only just beginning to emerge. In fact Burke Brogan’s play, tragic, funny and humane, did much to shed light on life behind the Magdalen walls and the treatment meted out to the girls and women imprisoned in these places.
Burke Brogan wrote the play from personal experience. She had been a novice with the Mercy nuns in Galway, working as a teacher.
During her summer holidays she was sent to the Magdalen laundry in the city’s Forster Street to help supervise the women. What she saw shocked her and ultimately played a role in her decision to leave the order. She has remained an active member of the Catholic Church, but never forgot what she had seen these women endure. The result was Eclipsed.
The play travelled to Edinburgh during its first production where it won a Fringe First Award. In 1998, mentored by the late Town Hall Theatre manager, Michael Diskin, it was revived, in a production directed by Caroline Fitzgerald.
In light of the recent McAleese Report, the reading of Eclipsed that will take place in Druid on March 8 is particularly timely.
Funds raised from the event will go to the Women’s and Children’s section of the charitable organisation COPE, says the event’s organiser, actress Andrea Kelly.
Andrea, who is originally from Corofin and now lives in Corandulla, previously took part in the 1998 Town Hall production of Eclipsed, when she played the young orphan, Juliet in the piece. She was 21 at the time and says the whole experience was “a total eye-opener”.
Andrea had known nothing of the history of these institutions until she read Patricia Burke Brogan’s play and began researching her role in Eclipsed.
“It’s beautiful, poignant and funny and it hits all the right notes when it comes to these women’s experiences,” she says. “It is harrowing what they went through.”
Andrea, who was based in England from 2006 until last year, was surprised when she returned to Ireland and realised that these women were in the news as a result of this report.
“It really got to me,” she says simply of her decision to revisit Eclipsed. Andrea contacted Patricia Burke Brogan about the idea of a rehearsed reading and describes the playwright as “very supportive”.
So she assembled a cast and then Druid offered the use of its space for the rehearsed reading.
Orla McGovern who played Bridget in the 1992 Punchbag production of Eclipsed will take on the role of Mother Veronica, one of the two nuns in the piece, for this rehearsed reading.
Fiona Kelly who played Nellie Nora in the Town Hall’s 1998 production will reprise that role for this event.
For more, read this week's Connacht Tribune.