Monday, 22 November 2004

Loyal Women by Gary Mitchell, Red Stitch, Oct 22, 2004

Loyal Women by Gary Mitchell
Red Stitch Actors Theatre
Rear 2 Chapel St. St. Kilda, Oct 22 to November 14, 2004
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Oct 22

The undercurrent of violence is palpable in Loyal Women by Irish playwright, Gary Mitchell.   

The play is a voyeuristic peek into the lives of women in the Ulster Defence Association, (UDA) the Irish Protestant paramilitary organisation responsible for many Catholic deaths since 1971.

Denny Lawrence's production explores this violence to some degree.  However, the style remains a little too actorly and middle class to capture truthfully the raw passion of these loyalist women of Northern Ireland.

Mitchell's script is grim, contemporary realism and Lawrence stages it in a naturalistic style. The tiny Red Stitch space is converted into a scruffy Ulster living room with a view into granny's room.

Brenda (Verity Charlton) lives with her hapless teenage daughter, Jenny, (Ella Caldwell) Jenny's crying baby and Brenda's demented mother-in-law, Rita. (Carole Yelland)

Brenda's wily, deceitful and cowardly husband, Terry, (David Whiteley) is back after sixteen years in jail for the murder of an IRA woman.

Brenda's living room is used for impromptu meetings of the local Women's branch of the UDA. This rabble includes their mature leader, Maureen, (Christine Keogh) the unpredictable, insidious Gail, (Kate Cole) and the volatile and stupid Heather. (Kat Stewart)

These women are dangerous, some desperate and all are violent and profoundly bigoted.

It is a mystery that the group is so deferential to Brenda who is obviously not interested in fighting. Brenda's history is cloudy and her husband's role in the murder he was convicted of is even murkier.

Terry tries to inveigle his way back into Brenda's life by any means. He threatens her boyfriend, Mark, (Brett Cousins) sleeps on her couch, steals her savings and enlists the support of Jenny and his mother, Rita.

Charlton gives Brenda some credibility but is not always convincing. Cole seems to soft as the violent Gail but this might be because the fight choreography is unconvincing. Stewart transforms into the rough and idiotic Heather.

Whitely makes the cowardly Terry appropriately dislikeable. Cousins, plays Mark as sweetly vulnerable while Caldwell is suitably gawky as the ignorant Jenny.

The two guest actors give very strong performances. Keogh is stately and quietly powerful as Maureen and Yelland plays Rita with the stubborn and silent strength of the ageing matriarch.

Mitchell's script is repetitive and the characters are often on one note but the story of bitter religious feuds is compelling.

By Kate Herbert

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