By Gary Mitchell
Directed by Denny Lawrence
With Ella Caldwell, Verity Charlton, Kate Cole, Olivia Connolly, Brett Cousins, Kat Stewart, David Whiteley, Christine Keogh & Carole Yelland
Set Design by Miranda Flinn
Lighting by Stelios Karagiannis
Loyal Women (Oct 20 – Nov 14, 2004) Bill Perrett, The Sunday Age 31/10/2004
Although the sectarian violence of Northern Ireland is at the fore of Loyal Women, the broader political situation isn’t its main concern. The play will inevitably invite comparison with Rona Munro’s Bold Girls, which was staged earlier this year at Chapel Off Chapel.
Bold Girls presented the lives of women whose men are involved on the Catholic side of the conflict. Like Loyal Women, which focuses on the Protestant side, it was more interested in the ways they continue to lead their lives in these circumstances. Brenda Ford (Verity Charlton) is a woman of quiet persistence. Her husband Terry (David Whiteley), just out of jail after 16 years, has already been unfaithful. Brenda’s teenage daughter Jenny (Ella Caldwell) is a new and unenthusiastic mother. Terry’s bedridden mother Rita (Carole Yelland) floats in and out of reality between demands for Brenda’s attention. If all that weren’t enough, the local Women’s Ulster Defence Association cell wants Brenda to do the books for them.
The cell, led by Maureen (Christine Keogh) and her deputy Gail (Kate Cole), also includes the rather feral Heather (Kat Stewart), whose solution to most problems is to “do” someone. They are trying to convince a local estate girl, Adele (Olivia Connolly) to give up her Catholic boyfriend, who is suspected of being an IRA member. Brenda herself is being pursued by nice Mark (Brett Cousins), who seems a little out of his depth.
Charlton is excellent in the demanding role of Brenda, torn between a past of unquestioning loyalty to the organisation and a more mature present in which she can see the limitations of such blind fidelity. She creates a sense of tension barely under control, which builds towards the play’s powerful climax.
Stewart is clearly having a good time as Heather, who is funny in a horrifying way. Cole is also impressive as the butch and ambitious Gail.
Director Denny Lawrence keeps the tension high and the delivery crisp and sharp, and Miranda Flinn’s set works well in bringing the audience into the action. An engaging and satisfying piece of theatre.