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The Mill on the Floss - Theatre Works

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by Tricia Ziemer (subscribe)
Television Producer & Photojournalist with a passion for sharing adventures in and around Melbourne, Australia. See my for other adventures. Subscribe to me so I can tell you of upcoming fab things not to miss.
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Do witches drown or bob? Find out in this stunning play
The warmth of Theatreworks on a cold Melbourne Night

THEATREWORKS - Intimant Play Space
THEATREWORKS - Intimant Play Space

I walked into the tiny, intimate place, called Theatre Works, and was not sure what to expect as the seats face the stage (which is the floor) from three sides creating an inclusive feel. And from lights up to lights down, this feeling continues; you become one with the story unfolding. The play and time flies as there is not one second without motion, visual purity, and plot. After I left the theatre, I was already trying to sculpt this review and I thought, I will run my thesaurus dry of superlatives trying to describe how wonderful this play is. But one thought stood out among all the others, it was "mesmerising". From the first stage darkened moment, where a disembodied stunning soprano singer chants ancient Gaelic style tones, till the last dying second, the drama sweeps you away to another time, another place, and another social ethos. Its continuing crescendo of emotion pulls you further and further into the story, until you are gasping along with the characters.

Maggie dressing for the ball, will she betray her best friend?

Add to this the extremely clever use of simple costuming of white linens and the magic of the show escalates. With just a few sports coats and bright skirts, the actors dramatically change into second and third personalities. The skill and finesse is breathtaking. Each scene is crafted as art on the stage and creates a totally new world, almost out of the air, with a minimum of stage furniture, superb lighting, and the movement of the actors' bodies themselves.

Maggie swept away in a boat headed for romance?

A table turned upside down becomes a rowing boat stealing our heroine away. Bodies blend and merge to create fish and rabbits and anger. It is hypnotic. As it was unfolding, I was beyond impressed by the skill and ability of the actors and the singing and dance movements. I could not pick one performer over another, as they interwove so beautifully. Their performances were seamless. They were true talent. While watching, I thought what divine dance movement, but when I reviewed the photos it became more and more evident how the actors were choreographed so that the tiniest of motion, of body, arm, head even finger position bespoke the unfolding story and evoked more and more powerful emotion within the audience.

Maggie and Tom
Maggie and Tom best mates when young

There was also a water theme throughout the play, which was written by a woman with the male writing name, George Eliot. The writer was well before her time with her passion for the written word and her belief that women are just as equal as men. First off, there is an interwoven and ancient storyline in the play that only witches can swim . Back in the 18th century, witches (actually any woman with healing skills or who was a respected leader) were thrown into the water due to the fact that water was deemed pure. An innocent person would be accepted and sink, but witches would be rejected and bob. Of course back in history before this era, it was believed that God was male, but it was the woman, the giver of life who were revered as the "Goddess". They were the leaders of their people. The very first "goddess" statue is a squatting women, heavily pregnant, giving birth. It looks almost like Budda. The crusading Catholics of the world, driven by monetary greed and men, could not have this. Thus they contrived this inventive method of drowning any woman in power. Men became more and more dominate over time and women were relegated to the lower ranks of society as just child bearers.

Our writer was born into the Victorian Era. Back in those days it was deemed that women did not have the intellectual abilities to write, learn foreign languages or perform book-keeping. So the writer wrote this book under a man's name because it would not be published if it was known it was written by a woman. And she wanted her message out; my brain is just a capable.

The author's anger about this unfair situation of the era, flows through her words and into Maggie, the main character, and the plot line of her book and now this play, "The Mill on the Floss".

Helen Edmundson has adapted this book brilliantly to bring it alive on stage. And Director, Tanya Gerstle, has given us a stunning rendition, through sculpted bodies, motion and the skills of the actors, with a reoccurring vision of "drowning" women. Women who are drowning in this archaic notion that they have no potential, purpose or place in society except as a chattel or wife.

And the water theme continues with swimming holes with masses of fish, the water wheel at the mill where the family lives, loves and losses everything, the drowning of the sorrows of the broken hearted young man in the bowl of water, even to the final watery scene.

fish tank
He's fallen in love and drowning his sorrows

This last scene will remain the mystery you will want to discover when you attend the play. And the play flows like a stream's rapids seamlessly, restlessly, surging powerfully toward the final waterfall and poignant finale. It's a ride of the rapids you will not want to miss.

To step back a wee bit and give you a tiny taste, the play is set in the 19th century of Great Britain and the drama unfolds with our young heroine, Maggie Tulliver, who is reading about a witch being held under the water.

Maggie aghast at the Witch Test
Maggie aghast at the Witch Test

This is deeply imprinted into her thoughts to a point she begins to have bad dreams.

The Witch Test - Sink or Swim
The Witch Test - Sink or Swim

Maggie is played by three actors as she ages from gangly youth (played by Maddie Nunn), to introverted religious teenager (played by Zahra Newman), to a stunning, intellectual beauty (played by Rosie Lockhart). Again, you are mesmerised by the three actors as Maggie morphs through her life transitions with the Directors meticulous artist movement.

Young Maggie morphs into her new older self

Her older brother Tom (played by Grant Cartwright) is adored by the mother and father and his sister; he is the spoilt oldest son, the golden haired boy.

Maggie so pleased Tom is home

But he has a twisted dark side which arouses as he realises he is not the brightest of wits. He struggles with his studies. He feels his sister lords this over him.

Tom struggles with his darkside

She does not. She is bright and sunny and loves to learn and is gifted in her abilities and adores her older brother. Tom starts to dominate her out of his upward spiralling feeling of inadequacy as the play unfolds.

Maggie pulls a prank dressing as a boy

Maggie's high intellect and fun nature starts getting her into numerous scrapes (egged on by her brother) to the point where her mother cannot keep up with her. Her mother (played by Luisa Hastings Edge) despairs about her highly spirited child and continuously demeans Maggie as a burden of naughtiness. Maggie's spirit stars to break. The Aunties add to the pain with their high brow, derogatory remarks.

Mums despairing with Aunties
Mums despairing with Aunties

The hurt continues for Maggie when her brother goes away to school and leaves her, as she wants to attend too, but is told she cannot for she is a girl.

Maggie devastated
Maggie devastated by events

The plot starts to twist toward the ever increasing rapids as we add the second wealthier family, with their quiet artist son, who has a deformed hand, Philip (played by Bob Jakin). The family rivalry between the Tullivers and the Wakems begins.

Potential romance between Maggie and Philip

But secretly, Maggie meets and starts to bond with Philip over their love of books. Romance begins to spark. Tom (who has terrorised Philip at school) will not have this and demands Maggie never speak to Phillip Wakem again.

Tom tortures Philip at school

The rapids are rising as then Maggie's father (played by James O'Connell) has a stroke and cannot work. They lose the Mill and their lively hood due to debts.

Maggie's father has a stroke and they may lose the Mill

The Wakem family step in and buy the Mill, adding insult to injury. Tempers fray. Tom and Maggie try to take on work to pay the debt off and Tom, ever controlling, forbids Maggie to take in sewing from certain families. Maggie subjugates herself again and agrees. But the burn lives within.

Who will Maggie marry if at all?
Who will Maggie marry if at all?

But through all, our heroine Maggie, moves from strength to strength as she fights for her right to be herself, to learn, to achieve,to love, and live to her full potential. But she also fights the inner demons of feeling inadequate, lost, useless, unloved, and goes through heart break after heart break as she strives towards her literary dreams and yet struggles with constant pressure from all sides to marry.

Maggie struggles with love and her inner demons

This is a magnificent piece of art and theatre with its twists and love triangles, and I will leave the mystery of it for you to discover. And this is your chance to enjoy this visually delightful, stunningly crafted, and beautifully acted play, created by Helen Edmundson and directed by Tanya Gerstle with its all-star cast.

If you are like me, you will probably want to go more than once to absorb and delight at this plays intricacies and be transported once again into Maggie's magical world. It is in here in Melbourne for a very short time so gather your loved ones and book quick.

Will older Maggie betray her best friend?

This play is a must see and will be on from July 28, 2016 to August 13, 2016 at TheatreWorks, 14 Acland Street, St Kilda. It starts at 7:30 and it only costs $20.00 per person.

You can book at

Much of the local parking is permit parking, but there is parking by the church or on Carlise Street.

I was able to speak to the Producer, Hannah Liddeaux, about the ending of the play. And she said,"There are about 7 interpretations and meanings about the ending". I will just say this as my view. I believe witches can swim. Feel free to comment back to me, after you see this play, as to how you interpret the ending and enjoy every minute.
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*Tricia Ziemer was invited as a guest
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Why? This play is mesmershing while exploring the right of a woman to fullfill her full potential
When: 7:30 pm
Phone: 03 9534 3388
Where: 14 Acland Street, St Kilda
Cost: 20.00
Your Comment
Sounds like this play had a big impact on you Tricia.
by Jenny Rossiter (score: 3|4129) 1226 days ago
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