Saturday, 28 April 2012

The Girls In Grey, by Carolyn Bock & Helen Hopkins, April 25, 2012 ***

By The Shift Theatre with Theatreworks
Theatreworks, April 25 to May 13, 2012
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on April 25, 2012
Stars: ***
Olivia Connolly, Helen Hopkins, Carolyn Bock in The Girls in Grey

THE GIRLS IN GREY IS A THEATRICAL TRIBUTE to the nurses who tended our Anzacs during World War One and, fittingly, it opened on a cold, rainy Anzac Day.

Writers, Carolyn Bock and Helen Hopkins, both capable, compelling actors, developed this script from research and the diary accounts of women who served during World War One in Egypt, The Dardanelles and The Somme.

Although these courageous women did not carry weapons, they worked in hospital units near the Front and suffered the horrific psychological trauma and physical illnesses typical in war zones.

The script uses dramatised self-narration, poetic imagery and commentary to illuminate the experiences of three nurses (Bock, Hopkins, Olivia Connolly).

The episodic, non-naturalistic and didactic style of the play is commonly used in community and political theatre and draws on Brechtian principles of theatre, allowing us to step back from the emotional stories and personal anguish of characters and observe their experiences dispassionately.

This style echoes the nurses’ sharply defined role that requires them to remain cool under enormous pressure and to respect the boundaries that separate nurses’ duties from those of doctors.

This is not to say that the women’s experiences are not moving as the nurses face the horrors of mutilated and dying men, the filth of the frontline trenches, the onset of Spanish Flu and the loss of their husbands, fianc├ęs and brothers, all played effectively by Lee Mason.

The three women’s voices blend like a Greek Chorus in this engaging ensemble, and they give life to their individual characters: Bock as elegant, proud Matron Grace, Hopkins as sensitive, diligent Alice, and Connolly as cheeky, younger Elsie.

The first half is a little repetitive in its dialogue, pace and rhythm but the latter half finds some dynamic variation when the nurses reach The Somme and tragedy escalates.

Karen Martin’s direction is often static, confining the women to the foreground, wooden platform and wasting the dramatic upstage space between two ragged, grubby, canvas drops that remind us of army tents (Alexander Hiller).

The Girls in Grey is an educational and sometimes confronting retelling of those forgotten women of World War One.

By Kate Herbert

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