independent

Saturday 25 October 2014

Jaki's play being adapted for film

Published 12/02/2014 | 05:20

JAKI McCarrick's play, Belfast Girls, about five young women who travel to Australia by ship in 1850 to escape the Irish Famine, is gathering enormous interest abroad.

Jaki McCarrick's play, Belfast Girls, about five young women who travel to Australia by ship in 1850 to escape the Irish Famine, is gathering enormous interest abroad.

The play was developed at the National Theatre Studio in London in January 2012 while Jaki was 'on attachment' to the National Theatre. It was then shortlisted for the prestigious international award for female playwriting – the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize.

The Committee for the National Commemoration for the Irish Famine invited the play to be read as part of their events in Drogheda in 2012 and this saw the London cast of the play give a stunning reading at the Droichead Theatre to a packed house. Belfast Girls also received a staged reading in Chicago last year, given by the all-female theatre company, Artemisia. Artemisia is now set to stage the American premiere of Belfast Girls in Chicago in spring 2015.

The Glasgow-based Merchant Culture theatre company is also hoping to stage the play in the UK this year and has commenced a Kickstarter campaign to raise production costs.

Jaki has also been approached by a Soho-based film production team to adapt Belfast Girls for the big screen and she is in the process of doing this. To add to the play's accolades, it has just been shortlisted for the 2014 Tony Doyle Award, a prestigious award presented each year by the BBC.

Between the years 1848 and 1851 over 4,000 Irish females took passage on ships from Ireland to Australia under the Orphan Emigration Scheme established by Earl Grey. The most notorious and riotous amongst these - both in transit and on arrival in Australia - were known as the Belfast girls.

Jaki says the play is an allegory of the Irish banking crisis, and that this is her main reason for writing it.

She was listening to the Joe Duffy show on the radio when a Tipperary woman described how the bank to which she owed €1.5 million euro had sent in a team of heavy vehicles and diggers to cut off the servcies to the farm, so that she and her animals will be starved out. 'This is exactly why I wrote my play, Belfast Girls, why I went to the Great Famine as a subject.'

'As early as 2009, I saw parallels between contemporary Irish society and the Famine: evictions and repossessions left, right and centre, Irish people being forced to emigrate and being left with no or little support from the people who run their society,' continues Jaki. 'During the Famine there was plenty of food and grain - leaving Irish ports. I consider that the draining of the Irish taxpayer in order to pay off the IMF/ECB bailouts, the bondholders, the banks, so that there is no other monies left to run society in a relatively 'normal' fashion, to be no different from shipping out grain at a time when the people are starving.

'Arthur Miller wrote The Crucible as an allegory for the McCarthyism of the 1950s. Similarly, I wrote Belfast Girls as an allegory (in part) of the effects of the Irish banking crisis on the people of Ireland. I wrote it because I cannot believe that now, over 150 years after the Famine, Ireland is once again failing its people. And failing them spectacularly. Except that now we do not have the landlords or Britain to blame; the fault is a lot closer to home.'

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