Writer: Susanne R. Day
Adaption: Painted Bird
Director: Fiona McGeown
Reviewer: Sarah Hoover
As with many performances of archival material, Toilers dips in and out of its originating impulses, the life and writing of Irish feminist actor, writer, activist and nurse Susanne R. Day. Acted with poise and energy by Julie Maguire, Leah Moore and Seána O’Hanlon, the play takes the form of several acts. Each contributes its own style, from performed suffrage meeting to melodrama (taken from Day’s plays The Amazing Philanthropists and Fidelity) to performance art.
It is clear that director McGeown and dramaturg Conway (along with multiple researchers and assistants) are attempting to present both an honest impression of Day’s experiences and thoughts, and the absence of much of her work (and other Irish women’s work) from the documented canon. This tension between the visible and the lost can muddy the presentational waters, making the audience reach to make sense of each section and its possible origins. Added to this is the evocative soundscape, designed by Rob Moloney, and the theatre-in-the-round set design of McGeown and Eoin Winning, both of which raise the tension by recruiting the audience as witnesses of action in a complex internal landscape.
However, the devising process has demonstrated the relevance of Day’s life and work to contemporary Ireland. Women silenced, the splintering of the suffrage movement, disagreement over priorities such as Home Rule, labour rights, support for the poor and homeless. These are challenges in Day’s life as in our lives. Finishing the show with an interpretive performance of Toilers, Day’s play about sex workers, brings the piece stylistically and thematically directly into 2017. Moore paints the message “#Repeat” on the floor with the same paint that covers O’Hanlon and Maguire, signaling the repetitive, ongoing control of women’s bodies.
The depth of Painted Bird’s work on Day makes this a show for those who appreciate this history and see the value of its place in contemporary theatre.
Runs until 23 September 2017 | Image: Contributed