Director: Louisa Sanfey
Reviewer: Saoirse Anton
“Females have been insulted, as it were; and while they have been stripped of the virtues that should clothe humanity, they have been decked with artificial graces, that enable them to exercise a short lived tyranny.” – Mary Wollstonecraft
This quote comes to mind upon watching Breaks, a production based on the true story of Gesche Gottfried of Bremen who systematically poisoned 15 of her family and friends before her arrest and execution. It is the story of a woman who is breaking under the oppression of her sex, but the concealment of whose crimes is also aided by the same oppression. She was seen as the nurse, the mother, the wife, the unfortunate “Angel of Bremen,” as she “cared” for her ill relatives, but never the murderer. This mode of working within what Wollstonecraft calls “the gilt cage,” of using society’s dismissal of her as simply a caring creature, in order to fight against her position, is powerfully symbolised in her decision to wear thirteen corsets, creating a structured, dangerous image. She takes the garments used to constrain the appearance and activity of women, and wears them almost as a painful suit of armour beneath her safe, acceptable dresses and petticoats.
Opening with a stunning, eerie pre-set (with set designed by Naomi Faughnan and lighting by Teresa Nagel) Breaks blends the old and the current to cut into the reasons behind Gottfried’s actions and to highlight the issues that women still face with regards to gender equality. With strong performances by the cast, Erin Gilgen, Morgan Cooke and Louise Wilcox, the show not only tells you a story, but prompts you to interrogate it too.
There are points at which the ties between the contemporary and historical are a bit rough and there is a somewhat episodic, disjointed feeling throughout much of the production. This combined with what appears to have been to be a few forgotten lines here and there breaks the flow of the piece. However, this is forgivable in the face of the engaging story and punchy message; with a little polishing, this production could easily pick up another star.
From Gesche Gottfried to “them’s the breaks,” Breaks is a production that, in the telling of one extreme story, reminds the audience of the myriad stories of women throughout history.Erin Gilgen, Morgan Cooke and Louise Wilcox
Runs until 18 September as part of the Tiger Dublin Fringe Festival | Image: Clíona Ní Laoi.