Eyes To The Floor

Margaret Helman
23rd May 2019

Hay in western NSW - circa 1960's - 1970's. Dry, dusty and isolated. The Institution for Girls operated inside the Hay Gaol.

Alana Valentine has won critical acclaim as a contemporary Australian playwright for her outstanding play 'Parramatta Girls Home'. This play takes us on another journey into amplified abuse and brutalisation.

When girls considered unruly at Parramatta and Cootamundra Girls homes they took a step 'up' - to Hay - out of site, out of mind incarcerated and exposed to ever-greater violence, torture, humiliation and abuse. The play's title refers to the humiliating rule 'that the girls - at all times' - must hold their heads down in a shame position.

This is a powerful play. Each character is clearly drawn and it provides the actors with a solid 'spine' to craft their roles. The six female inmates are on the stage almost constantly and we witness their humiliation, deprivation and verbal and physical abuse. Day and night there is no escaping the eyes of the dispassionate, disturbed superintendent.

The tension and sense of reality brought to this production was palpable. With strength it challenged the audience and made the work hard to endure. Ignorance and cruelty were onstage and demanding and we had no escape. As the director's not said: "this is no fiction."

The performances were remarkable. I doubt that a troupe of seasoned actors could have trumped their ability to communicate the essence of the work.

All strength to Geoff Cartwright for his direction and his integrity in using this play as a learning tool for students to be submerged in the treatment the girls' home received and the lifelong damage done to their lives. Writers of history often paper over the cruel cracks delivered to the vulnerable in our community. Working on and in this play leaves no room to escape the storyline.

Apart from the director - women were responsible for every element of the production: stage manager, lighting sound and costume design and the actors.

Congratulations to each and every one of you and may your stars rise.