The Girls in Grey

The Girls in Grey
By Carolyn Bock and Helen Hopkins. Presented by The Shift Theatre in association with Theatre Works. Director: Karen Martin. Lighting Design: Nick Merrylees. Sound Design: Nick Van Cuylenberg. Set Design: Alexander Hiller. Costume Design: Lyn Wilson. Theatre Works. April 25 to May 13, 2012.

The Girls in Grey is an amalgam of experiences of Australian Army Nurses serving in World War One. Much of the text comes from diary entries and letters. It is a work that ‘tells it like it really was’ through the sensibilities of the women of the era.

It is written by Helen Hopkins and Carolyn Bock following two years of research and creative development. Real-life experience is adapted for performance without being reinterpreted to satisfy contemporary insights or expectations.  And as such The Girls in Grey is a noteworthy historical document that offers significant insight into social expectations through how these women expressed themselves whilst living under great duress.

In this meaningful actors’ vehicle, all performers, and most particularly Helen Hopkins and Carolyn Bock, excel in conveying the social mores of the time through their well-honed expressive skills and clear well-modulated voices.  They are amply assisted by excellent costumes designed by Lyn Wilson. Both Bock and Hopkins convey moments of strong and moving emotional revelation.

As an insightful historical text, it is no surprise that The Girls in Grey is on the VCE Drama list. It would make an excellent touring show that would delight members of Historical Societies.

Director Karen Martin displays deep respect for the material and the skill of her actors by staging the whole in an uncomplicated fluid manner. The set (Alexandra Hiller) is a wooden rostrum with a backdrop of a symbolic trench.

However the work is worthy of a more complex and subtle lighting design (Nick Merrylees) that specifically and atmospherically signifies environments. The soundscape (Nick Van Cuylenberg) is heavy handed and lacks nuance at times.  

Perhaps startling effects could be incorporated to jolt an audience into vivid and visceral experiences of the horrors of war.  However the depth of empathy and understanding as expressed by the actors, most particularly in moments of heightened emotional experience, is elucidating and convincing.

As the season continues this troupe of talented actors will sense opportunities for defining environments, enhancing atmospheres and add touches of believability.

In all, The Girls in Grey is a sensible, well-constructed, interpreted and presented testimony of experiences of our nurses working by the side of our soldiers in WWI.  

It will move and please many people.

Suzanne Sandow

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