Tuesday, 20 February 2018

This Is Eden, Feb 15, 2018 ***1/2

by Emily Goddard 
at fortyfivedownstairs, until Feb 25, 2018 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert 
Stars: ***1/2

Review also published in Herald Sun in print on Tues Feb 20, 2018 & online at Arts/Lifestyle. KH
This Is Eden-Emily Goddard-photo Justin Batchelor

If you've ever talked cheerfully about having convict ancestors, your attitude may change after seeing This Is Eden, Emily Goddard's play depicting the horrific conditions of incarcerated female convicts at The Cascades Female Factory in Hobart Town in 1839.

In Susie Dee’s moving and often funny production, Goddard, initially playing a gauche but well-meaning tour guide, gently introduces her audience to the history of the Factory and the women who were transported from England for trivial crimes.

This companionable engagement with the audience shifts dramatically when Goddard reappears as filth-covered, desperate young convict, Mary Ford, who languishes in isolation and silence in a tiny, dank cell (design, Romanie Harper).

Goddard is a skilful chameleon, transforming physically and vocally from naive tour guide to tortured victim fighting to retain her humanity and identity.

As the convict, Mary, Goddard delivers vicious parodies of her tormentors, using the black comic style of Bouffon, the grim, mediaeval, French clown that attacked Church and State through brutal imitation.

The first target of Mary’s vitriol is an upper class, settler's wife who used Mary as a servant – or should we say slave?

Goddard's second venomous parody is a pompous, fire-and-brimstone Reverend, who threatens the girls with hellfire for their petty sins, and her final target is the blustering Factory superintendent who justifies his inexcusable actions with, ‘I'm just following orders’.

The less gruelling scenes with the tour guide relieve the pressure of the punishing scenes of Mary in her darkened cell, but the dynamic range of the show, including the shifts between Mary and the tour guide, are sometimes awkward.

This is Eden is on the VCE syllabus, and audiences of secondary school students will be engaged and challenged not only by Goddard's skilful performance, but also by the confronting details about the Cascades Factory and our dark history.

By Kate Herbert

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