The Seymour Centre is currently home to Fallen – a thought-provoking production written by Seanna Van Helten and directed by Penny Harpham. Produced in collaboration with Sport for Jove and She Said Theatre, we are transported back to Victorian England. More specifically to Urania Cottage, a home for ‘fallen’ women.
The refuge was founded by Charles Dickens under the premise of giving underclass women (often sex workers who had spent time in prison) the chance of a new life. They were to redefine themselves as respectable women and, oh so importantly, to become wives of settlers in new British colonies — including Australia.
Eerie music sets the scene for the performance of Fallen. As we take our seats, the sound of waves washing over sand, footsteps on cobblestones and girls chatting in the distance fills the theatre.
We quickly get to know each of the girls and their personality quirks as we see them from two sides. How they behave when they are in view of the stern Matron of the Urania Cottage (Lucy Goleby) as they vie for her attention is quite different to their behaviour behind closed doors in their dormitory.
Cheekily endearing Martha (Abbie-Lee Lewis), feisty queen bee Isabella (Rebecca Montalti), downtrodden Julia (Moreblessing Maturure), agitated Georgie (Eloise Winestock), and well-educated new girl Rosina (Chantelle Jamieson) portray a sisterhood more than likely relatable to every woman in the audience. They, laugh, cry, argue, and torment each other in between playing silly games and dreaming up men in leather boots with blue eyes.
I can only imagine what these women experienced. Their former lives were suppressed to the extent that they are forbidden to tell anyone (including each other) where they came from. They are told that their future husbands will not care, therefore their stories no longer matter. Their sole purpose is to become good honest wives.
Playwright Van Helten successfully gives completely individual and authentic voices to the carefully-crafted characters. This, coupled with the profound and often witty performances given by the talented cast, ensure the audience will reflect on bigger issues. Gender roles, and the suppression and displacement of people, are still relevant in today’s world. The message in Fallen is a poignant one: The false promise of shiny new lives and fresh starts rarely succeeds in solving society’s problems.
Fallen is a fantastic ode to the real women who lived in Urania Cottage.
Abi believes you can never wear too much leopard print or drink too much white wine. Follow her on Instagram @rincess_abi.