Susanne R. Day’s Toilers – Her Lost Play As Reconstructed by Painted Bird – The Lir Academy – Dublin Fringe Festival
Reviewed by David Minogue
Tickets €11 – Dates Sep 20 – 23 @18:30
Tickets €16/ €14 conc. – Duration 80 mins
Other performance Sep 22 – 23 @ 13:00 – Venue: The Lir Academy Studio 1
Find out more about Painted Bird here
Susanne R. Day was born in Cork in 1867 and was during her life a novelist, playwright, feminist and suffragette. In January 1911 she was one of the founders of the Munster Women’s Franchise League where she campaigned for the right of women to vote. She continued to do so until suffrage was finally granted in 1918 to women over the age of 30 in the United Kingdom and Ireland. In June 1911, she was one of the first four women elected as poor-law guardians in the Cork Union. She co-wrote three plays with Geraldine Cummins which were performed at the Abbey Theatre between 1913 and 1917. Her second play Toilers was written in 1913 and is now lost. The only thing known about Toilers is that it was about three prostitutes in Dublin and had been described as ‘a little propaganda play’. It is this play that the production company Painted Bird reconstruct in a performance that is preceded by highlights of the various aforementioned key moments of Day’s life.
This is a production that has been in development in various workshops since June 2015 and was first performed as part of the Cork Midsummer Festival in June of this year. In this production Julie Maguire, Leah Moore and Seána O’Hanlon are already on set when the audience enter the theatre space. The audience are seated on all four sides with only chairs, microphone stands and boxes of props and costumes in the wide space of the centre of the set. The arrangement of the seating allows a meeting hall atmosphere. Through dialogue being spoken within the use of dimmed lighting it is easy for the audience to visualise the speeches and arguments of the early suffragette meetings that the play begins with. Throughout the production the three women play a multitude of characters. These include real life people such as Day herself, the people who both fought for and against suffrage and many other figures from that period of political and social history. They also play fictional characters from her plays.
It is obvious that a huge amount of research has been done in the creation and presentation of this production. The dialogue and incidents depicted move from parts of Ireland, England and France and then back again. At times it is easy to get lost in the constant flow of information but it is all depicted with great passion and conviction by all three of the performers. Many of the issues highlighted in the production also draw parallels to the issues that affect women in 2017. This is most powerfully depicted in the performance of the Toilers play. Music and various noises play as a soundtrack throughout the production. Two songs are also performed and each song tells a story that is important to the entire structure of the play. Especially in the case of the song ‘Women Possess the Genius for Organisation’ this is a greatly effective device in the production’s entire narrative.
Many people who see this production may not be aware of the life and work of Susanne R. Day or the many women who campaigned alongside her during the years of 1911 to 1917. It also depicts the complexity of the time that the play is set in, including World War One. This production is the work of a wide group of people. The three women on stage do great justice to the memory and accomplishments of the suffrage movement both in Ireland and the United Kingdom. On Painted Bird’s website there is also a clear chronology of the events depicted in the production. The power of theatre is that it can make us explore the issues raised further and this is a production that certainly does so.
Direction and Co-Set Design – Fiona McGeown
Dramaturgy – Thomas Conway
Sound Design – Rob Moloney
Lighting Design & C0-Set Design – Eoin Winning
Costume Design – Naomi Faughnan
Assistant Set Design – Sarah Foley
Production Management – Michael Cummins
Stage Management and Light Operator – Reuben Cummins
Research Consultant – Dr. Sandra McAvoy
Research Assistant – Sinead Sexton
Cast – Julie Maguire