There’s a war memorial on Whitehall which symbolises the remarkable role and resilience of women during the Second World War; but unlike the other monuments which line the street and the colourful murals up the Shankill and along the Falls, it doesn’t feature a man’s face. In fact, it doesn’t feature a face. For in place of generals and dukes, viscounts and earls, stands a bronze sculpture which depicts the uniforms and working clothes worn by women during the war. Our country needed them and they answered the call.
But one uniform is missing to symbolise the bold women of Belfast who under a volley of gunfire and petrol bombs, dawn raids and kneecappings, answered the call to put food on the table and clothes on the backs of the next generation of leaders and peacemakers who unlike Cassie (Scarlett Mack) as described by Nora (Deirdre Davis) wouldn’t “grudge a dry hand to a drowning man”.
And that uniform is the humble apron to signify the terraced rows of mothers which Marie (Lucianne McEvoy) likens to the “common wee birds” in her back garden. “It’s easy enough to build a great wee nest when you’ve a whole forest to fly in,” she tells Deirdre (Sinéad Sharkey) towards the end of the play, “but you’d need to be something special to build one round the Falls.”
First performed at Cumbernauld Theatre in 1991, Bold Girls by Rona Munro is not without its flaws: the confessional monologues become expected; the succession of one-liners (“Just nineteen, trying to grow a moustache like dust on a ledge”) though always funny are at times excessive; and the plot twist is melodramatic.
But the daily struggles faced by the four bold women ‒ Marie’s determination of “holding the home together”, Cassie’s desire of “getting out of here”, Nora’s dream of “a lovely wee room” and Deirdre’s digging for “the truth” ‒ are just as relevant in these times of austerity than during the Troubles. “Except,” as Munro wrote in a foreword to her play, “that guns make a difference to everything.”
Director Richard Baron draws strong performances from his cast; the dialogue ricocheting hard and fast like bullets. And Neil Haynes’ set ‒ an uncompromising wall of black bricks and steel girders from which emerges a garishly decorated living room and kitchen befitting of the eighties ‒ is complimented by Stuart Jenkins’ fine lighting design which alternates between harsh and homely and Jon Beales’ ominous sound-scape of choppers and static.
My only criticism is that given the poverty of the times and tensions of the Troubles, it all feels a little too clean-cut: smiles glossed with lipstick rather than fixed with the super-glue of Marie’s stoicism. But thanks to Munro’s strand of if-ye-don’t-laugh-ye’ll-greet humour, there are genuine smiles all round as the “common wee birds” summon up something special to build a great wee nest round the Falls.