The All-Female Play Exposing A Magdalene Laundry – Enter, Eclipsed

The piece was written by former Magdalene Laundry supervisor, whose first-hand experiences sculpt the play's tone.

Teaching the country's jagged history through the medium of theatre is something with which Kate Canning is grossly familiar. 

A former Shakespeare Schools Programmer for the Gaiety School of Acting, Canning's penchant for Arts Education has seen her direct King Lear, Romeo and Juliet, Othello, Macbeth and The Importance of Being Earnest solely for the purpose of encouraging our country's youth. 

Since being appointed to the head role in The Mill Theatre in Dundrum in 2016, Canning's passion has seen her educate some 10,000 Leaving and Junior Certificate students each year to the tune of the iambic pentameter. 

"I think we can all remember studying Shakespeare in secondary school and thinking about how rubbish it was," she tells Irish Tatler. 

"I want to change that. So much of what you study formulates what you become later in life and I want to be able to give students a taste of something we think is so important."

Her latest project is something a little different, while also boasting similar emotional, societal and educational highs; Eclipsed is an award-winning play set in a Magdalene laundry during the 1960s.

Penned by Galway native Patricia Burke Brogan, the show originally premiered almost 30 years ago to a crowd still in the thick of Catholic rule.

The scandal of Ireland’s Magdalene laundries was only just beginning to emerge, with a primary source play on the subject never having made it passed publication. 

"I actually wanted to direct the play almost 15 years ago now, but the rights proved really difficult to obtain," Canning says. 

"No one owned it per se which made things really tricky, but I eventually got in touch with a Burke Brogan family member who kindly sorted everything for us while we also managed to get Patricia's blessing, too. Now as we are about to go on in a post #MeToo world, I think the play boasts more cultural importance than we ever considered."

The piece centres around four women who struggled to bear the austerity of their existence and desire to break the shackles of this landmark era of societal repression. Its main aim, it's believed, is to repurpose itself as a stark reminder of the brutal intolerance of ‘female deviance’ in our country’s not so distant past.

Equal parts tragic, funny and humane, Burke Brogan's play has done much to shed light on the day to day life behind the Magdalene walls and the treatment of the girls and women imprisoned in these places as witnessed by Burke Brogan herself.

Speaking of the piece she wrote some 30 years ago herself, Burke Brogan details the visceral reaction she had to deal with internally upon entering into a home of 'ill-repute'.

“I was brought into this huge space with these machines – the noise of the machines, the deafening noise – and then out of the haze I saw these women, young women, old women, and they looked at me like I was another of the people who’d locked them up... it was like I was in Dante’s inferno."

“I was given the key, so that transferred the authority to me, and I wondered if I should just open the place and let them out," she cited further. 

"But most of them had no place to go... when I asked the superior why they weren’t let out, she said ‘Oh, if you let them out they’d be back here in no time, pregnant again’.”

Eclipsed runs at the dlr Mill Theatre from February 4 - 8 2020. More details and tickets can be found here

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