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Drowning Girls. Guest review.

Guest Reviewer: Malcolm Page

The Drowning Girls
by Beth Graham, Charlie Tomlinson and Daniela Vlaskalik
Directed by Charlie Tomlinson
A Bent out of Shape production
Studio: Gateway Theatre, Richmond
March 4 to 13, 2010

Vancouver, BC: The Drowning Girls prompted for me a question rarely asked: why did these people write, or devise, this? The subject is the ‘Brides in the Bath’ murders in Britain of 1912-14. George Smith drowned three wives after they had made wills leaving their money to him, and the first two were initially found to be accidental. Smith's technique for killing comes at the end, a kind of climax. Canadian audiences must be presumed to know nothing of these facts, which probably were found in the old Penguin series, ‘Famous Trials.’

Was the starting point a feminist one, woman as victim? The girls allude briefly to the inferior position of women at the time, though the authors appear not to know of the Married Women's Property Acts of 1870-82.

The women are clearly silenced, voices from the dead, but do not engage with how they came to fall suddenly in love with such a monster. The trio (played by  Beth Graham, Daniela Vlaskalik and Natascha Girgis) eventually are somewhat differentiated, one marrying innocently, a second sceptically and the third in a spirit of adventure. They also briefly take on other parts, as maids, worried parents and an insurance agent. Yet the script rarely engages with psychological or sociological angles, requiring a distinct liking for a curious comic-macabre genre.

The starting point was probably with spectacle, achieving much with three performers and a fairly simple staging, a production-dependent show (increasingly common, perhaps). The set is three baths, half-full of water, periodically re-filled from showers above. The actresses, in and out of the baths, wearing first period underwear and then white dresses, are soaked throughout. Is the water warm enough? - I saw no shivering. Is this unhealthy? The props come out of the bathwater, including blue bouquets, the only touch of colour, and wet newspapers, which they have to be careful notto tear. Style in fact, totally triumphs over potentially deadly serious substance.