All Female Production "Fallen" Comes To The Seymour Centre
Six women, their pasts behind them, have been promised a clean slate on the other side of the world, in the new colonies of Australia.
From 6th to 22nd April, Sport For Jove and She Said Theatre will present the Sydney premiere of the new Australian work, FALLEN, as part of The Seymour Centre’s Reginald Season. Set in London in 1848, FALLEN is Inspired by the history of Urania Cottage, a home for “fallen” women founded by Charles Dickens. Six women have been given a second chance. Their pasts behind them, they have been promised a clean slate on the other side of the world, in the new colonies of Australia.
Sealed off from the outside world, they cook, they clean, they sing, they sew – they practice the art of being female while they wait for their new lives to begin. But as the date of departure draws near, the women begin to wonder what reinvention will cost them. What will such promises make them do? And what about the fall yet to come, the tumble down the edge of the world to a far-away continent...What is waiting for them? Are they prepared for it? Are they ready?
Developed with the support of Playwriting Australia at the National Script Workshop 2016, and following on from its successful first public reading at the WITS Festival Fatale, Sport For Jove and She Said are excited to bring this imaginative work to the Reginald Theatre stage. "Fallen is the story of six complex female characters who have been told by their society that the ways they have been living their lives aren't right” said Director Penny Harphan. “They are trapped by their circumstances - as women, we understand that often there isn’t a sole antagonist in our lives, we’ve grown up understanding that oppression is much more structural and often more subtle and more difficult to disentangle ourselves from - and that is the struggle of all of the characters in Fallen”. We had a chat to her about this masterpiece!
It was mentioned that Fallen is inspired by the history of Urania Cottage, could you explain to our readers what that concept is all about?
It’s set in 1848 in a home established by Charles Dickens to reform ‘fallen’ women from the streets and give them a second chance at life in the colonies of Australia. The home was called ‘Urania Cottage’ and was in the outskirts of London (at the time) in a suburb called Shepard’s Bush. This play is not about Charles Dickens, not naturalistic and is not a factual retelling of this history. It can’t be, as history has never allowed these women to pen their own stories or experiences. It is instead an imagining of what the lives, stories, desires and relationships were like for the those forgotten women who spent time in this experimental institution.
The story follows “six complex females”, can you tell us a little more about these characters we’re going to meet?
There are five ‘fallen’ women in this play, and their Matron. The women being trained in the home range from former sex workers, pick pockets, orphans and also an upper class woman whose father went bankrupt landing her in a debtor’s prison. They are rowdy, violent, hilarious, terrified and curious people who are each responding to the rules of their new future in totally different ways. Matron is constantly putting out spot-fires as she tries to remain in control of her students, which means we see very different sides to her depending on which ‘girl’ she is trying to punish or get onside. It’s a whirlwind in this house – sometimes you don’t know where to look!
Seeing as the story is set in the mid 1800s, in what ways can we expect, as a modern-day audience, to relate to these stunning characters?
They are so us. We are not using British accents, we are not pretending that we are peering into the home, for real. We are approaching this home and this text with a contemporary feminist understanding. The scenes are beautifully complex and deep and real, but the design and tone of the show is deliberately more abstract to bring us out of ‘period drama’ territory and into something more contemporary. The most important way for us to do that was through the casting. Ensuring that our audience is as diverse as the bus that takes me to rehearsal every day is a She Said priority. If I want Australians to understand how this historical play has relevance to the society we are living in today then I need to make sure that all Australians, and all people living here, feel represented and reflected on the stage. That doesn’t just stop with casting diversely, it means listening to all the voices in the room, taking on their feedback and striving to create a safe space for everyone in the room to interrogate the rules and structure we operating in so that the production we create is a sum of us – across classes, cultures, ages, experiences, sexualities, politics and abilities.
The story explores ideas of oppression and gender expectations. Can you explain what drew you to this issue and how you think it will positively impact society’s views?
Our company is called She Said Theatre and our aim is to address the gender imbalance in our industry. By extension, we aim to create space for all artists who are under-represented to share their stories with audiences who, in our experience, are only too willing to listen. Fallen is a great example of what She Said is all about – putting women front and centre of the story and reimagine history through a different lens –a female lens, herstory. The play is pushing against the notion of a ‘fallen’ woman. Who says she is fallen? What does that mean? How do we know what these women were really like? Or what they really wanted? What were there desires? Their strengths? What futures could they have had, outside of what Dickens wrote for them? Feminism is memory, said the great Cherokee writer and activist Reyna Greene. Fallen is a reimaging, a reckoning. It exists not in fact – because how can it, these women have disappeared, untraceable, undocumented, not important enough for the great pages of history. It is an act of remembering, and that – imagining a different history – is incredibly political and challenging.
Without giving away any spoilers, do you have a particular favourite scene or moment in the production?
Oh look … I’m so biased! So many. But I think my favourite scene is the Christmas Lunch scene towards the end. It’s so well written – like, just so well written – and by this stage in the play you have seen so much of these characters that every look, every word, every silence is understood and felt so deeply. It’s genius ensemble writing.
Are there any funny stories or “blooper” moments during the rehearsal process you could entertain us with?
With all the female energy and conversation generated in this play, every time a man enters our rehearsal room is pretty funny.
Where: Reginald Theatre, Seymour Centre. Corner of City Rd and Cleveland St, Chippendale.
Dates: 6th to 22nd April, 2017
Times: Mon – Fri 7:30pm, Sat 2pm and 7:30pm
Tickets: Adult $44 / Concession $35
Featuring: Abbie-lee Lewis, Chantelle Jamieson, Eloise Winestock, Lucy Goleby, Megan Holloway, Moreblessing Maturure, Rebecca Montalti
Playwright: Seanna van Helten
Director: Penny Harpham
Producer: Anna Kennedy
Composer/Sound Designer: Raya Slavin
Costume Designer: Chloe Greaves
Set Designer: Owen Phillips
Lighting Designer: Sian James-Holland
Video Designer: Michael Carmody