Following its acclaimed 2017 production of Alana Valentine's Parramatta Girls, The Rough Hewn Theatre Troupe presents its companion piece, Eyes To The Floor.
The 13-year-old northern Beaches-based theatre company has, since 2015, devoted itself primarily to the work of women theatre practitioners – writers, directors and actors of all ages. With its almost entirely female, local cast, Eyes to The Floor is a potent realisation of that philosophy: a play that is both shocking and empowering.
Eyes to the Floor is a lament; a grieving for the bruised, abused and broken lives of young girls sent, in the 1960s and 1970s, to the Institution for Girls, Hay.
Valentine asks her audience to bear witness to the brutality meted out to those girls aged 13-17 under state care who were expelled from the Parramatta or Cootamundra Girls Homes and sent to be disciplined in Hay.
Hay sits on the Hay Plain in western NSW and the Institution for Girls was housed in the Hay Gaol. Concrete cells surrounded by tall concrete walls with ominous observation towers. The girls marched everywhere, with militaristic precision – to bed, to the toilet, to their duties, to the isolation cell. And, because looking staff in the eye would lose them rations, get them humiliated or bashed… they always kept their eyes to the floor.
Valentine shines a spotlight on a dark time in NSW's governance of wards of the state. Hay may have closed in 1974 but its former inmates still suffer post-traumatic stress, anxiety, panic attacks, phobias, depression, sleep disorders, broken marriages and suicide. Sent to Long Bay, one former Hay inmate described it as "a breeze" compared to Hay.
Eyes to the Floor, a vibrant ensemble work, is in the 'verbatim' form, Valentine having researched and interviewed former Hay inmates and weaved them into an amalgamation of characters living in tragic circumstances.
Rough Hewn artistic director Geoff Cartwright directs the production as well as playing the one male role: sadistic guard Naylor. Joining him are Annika Bates, Maddie Boyle, Lucy Hadfield, Izzy Hanley, DiAnne MacDonald, Maddy Press & Jess Wilson.
As with Parramatta Girls, the company will hold a Q & A at the end of each performance.
Eyes to the Floor plays from 16 to 25 May, Thur-Sat at 7.30pm, in the Star of the Sea Theatre, on the corner of Iluka Av and Collingwood St, Manly.
Tickets: $30.00 Adults; $15.00 Concession