26 May 2022

The Factory Girls are coming to The Glens Centre, Manorhamilton

In the hundred year anniversary of the movement that resulted in some women gaining the right to vote, Splódar Theatre Company is set to bring “The Factory Girls” by Frank McGuinness to the Glens Centre Manorhamilton for a four night run from March 21- 24.

The series of shows along with a special performance in Loughan house in Cavan sees the community theatre group continue to make the arts as accessible and relevant to as many as possible.

The Factory Girls by Frank McGuinness could be described as a fitting tribute by Splódar to mark the hundred years since the start of the movement that saw some women gaining the vote. The five female characters are the main protagonists of the play, colleagues in a Donegal shirt factory faced with the threat of redundancy. They decide to take matters into their own hands and stand up against powerful odds.

For McGuinness it was to be his first full length play in 1982. The playwright drew inspiration for it from what he knew best, his working class roots in Buncrana, County Donegal, his family and particularly his mother. McGuinness recounts in an interview how his mother “ a very bright articulate’ woman was forced at 14 years of age to go into a shirt factory” Likening it to going into “a Victorian Mill’ her future as a woman was already determined.

He said of her “This brilliant girl had to go in there, and to be treated so badly by other people who had been treated badly passing it down, and knowing that was it…. “ But the women in his family including his mother never caved in nor gave up with such lack of control over their circumstances. It was from this kind of female resilience he witnessed in his own life that he drew upon for this play and many others. “The female force in my plays are enormous” McGuinness proudly says.

His mother, he recounts, was an “extremely funny, extremely brave individual, and would take on anyone” It’s not hard to spot her character personified in Eileen Slevins character Ellen within “The Factory Girls”. McGuinness shows the bonding, camaraderie, and courage prevailing while the women are being threatened with losing their jobs, neither their skilled work nor themselves being valued. His characters are lovingly crafted, with witty dialogue yet complete with all their human flaws.

Women’s work at the time was relied upon to keep the family going, a small income for themselves and their families would be guarded protectively.

The female characters of McGuinness' play as of his childhood were not ones to passively accept what life dealt them rather they singularly and collectively sought to change it whatever ways they could.

McGuinness says “I’ve always accordingly associated women with independence and the fight for independence, of isolation and escape from it”

For Splodar according to Prin Duignan who directs the Glen Centre's production, it is a play that they are “delighted to produce to mark the year”. It was the first play that Splodar ran when they started as a fledgling group back in 1997 and have decided to revisit it.

For the women characters of the play Duignan portrays their struggle “Women were up against it” he says. “They had to work their fingers to the bone, it was like slave labour” Reflecting back to the plays relevance to the 100 year anniversary he explains that in “The Factory Girls” and for many women in that time. “Women had no control in the outside world and had to find “power from within themselves.”

Whilst there has been movement since with the right to vote, discrimination remains institutionalised. For the factory girls there is nowhere to go, even the structures there to support them are infiltrated.

The story is one that will hold great resonance for many today.

Sheila O Keeffe who plays Una reminds the audience of how brave the play was when set in its historical context. Women hadn’t an equal footing and were often demonised by the actions of the state as in the case of the Kerry babies soon after. The working mothers torn in their roles with guilt leaving young children have no choice but to work needing the income. There are many aspects of the play that continue to ring true.

According to Sheila O Keeffe “It’s about many things, about money, about poverty, about having a job.”

You see a rural urban divide; the characters are on the periphery isolated even by geography. The women also have to fight their own demons and carry their own pain from domestic violence, alcoholism, bereavement and are on a journey of personal growth and bonding. Mc Guinness sprinkles the play with gritty colourful vernacular but with great humour as only he can do.

Splodar's focus on producing the play with such strong representation of women is in keeping with its ethos, as it prides itself on its inclusivity. It has a history of bilingualism, producing plays in both Irish and English. Similarly it is keen in nurturing works from new writers, in the last year alone it produced three works, “Anna Livia Lesbia”, “The First Protestant’ to “Young Stephen” an adaptation of Joyce’s “Portrait of the Artist “.

The production of “The Factory Girls” will be brought to Loughan House on the same week. The group is passionate that everyone should experience the arts.

According to Prin Duignan he is committed to working more regularly there to help to expose residents “to part of the arts that they may not have been exposed to before.” This will take the form of putting on shows and helping engage them on different levels. “Everyone has the right to self expression,” says Duignan.

The play stars Eileen Slevin as Ellen, Sheila O'Keeffe as Una, Treasa Nealon as Vera, Sarah Ferguson as Rebecca, Kaytlin O'Hara as Rosemary, Darragh Heraghty as Rohan, Dave Mc Avoy as Bonner.

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