First published in The Times, Wednesday January 31 2018
Rona Munro’s Bold Girls, first staged in 1990, is one of those disquieting works that lures its audience in gently before gradually exposing them to the sadness and desperation at its core. The play is set in Belfast at the height of the Troubles, but in the opening ten minutes of this revival at the Citizens – as Marie (Lucianne McEvoy) entertains her best friend, Cassie (Scarlett Mack), and Cassie’s mother, Nora (Deirdre Davis), in her cramped front room – we might just as easily be in sitcom-land. The women light-heartedly discuss their planned night out, diets and Saturday evening telly. Neil Haynes’s design is so detailed that you can almost feel the warm glow from Marie’s grill pan.
At some point, we hear an explosion, to which the trio responds with the vague curiosity one might in normal circumstances allot to the noise of a car backfiring. Their reaction speaks volumes about the way they have become inured to the violence that is the backdrop to their lives. The Troubles have impacted directly on all three: Marie’s husband has been killed, and Cassie’s husband and brother are imprisoned in “The Kesh”. Yet, strikingly, Munro never uses the T-word in her script. This is emphatically a play about women surviving in extreme circumstances rather than the conflict and its causes.
Pic: Tim Morozzo
In Richard Baron’s engaging production, the ensemble does a fine job of subtly revealing the complex emotions simmering beneath the “bold” public personae they present to their families, their community and the authorities. Everyday difficulties are made tolerable by their dreams. While angry Cassie has quietly been saving money to fund her escape from Belfast and the husband she now finds repellent, her mother is pinning her hopes on the 15 yards of peach-coloured remnant with which she plans to brighten up her front room. Marie, meanwhile, seeks refuge in rose-tinted memories of her husband, Michael, only to have her world turned upside-down by a stranger, Deirdre (Sinéad Sharkey), who turns up at the front door, seeking shelter.
Pic: Tim Morozzo
Baron and his cast prove adept at handling the repeated switches in storytelling technique employed by Munro, with the dramatic action punctuated by direct address to the audience. “This whole town’s a prison,” says Deirdre at one point, and by the end of the two-hour running time we have gained a strong sense of that stifling, constricting community with its roadblocks to physical freedom and personal ambition, just as we feel we know the four bold protagonists of Munro’s play, intimately.