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Emily Goddard : This is Eden

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Passing the oh-so-cool queues for dinner tables, we arrive at Melbourne’s not-for-profit gem, 45 Downstairs. From the moment we walk into the space we are in Emily Godard’s world – a world where the history of female convicts is told with parallels to the refugee debate, immigration policy and modern-day sexism. As performer and theatre-maker, Emily takes her audience on a confrontational, and at times, challenging journey.
 
Goddard’s This is Eden is part comedy, part drama, and part education on some of Australia’s oft-dark history. Her modern-day tour guide, Jane, is about to show us around. There are hessian sacks on the wall, newspaper headlines from way back when, and non-fiction pieces on the history of female convicts. Jane’s bubbly slapstick gives the audience a false sense of lightheartedness before things really kick off and we dive headfirst into 1839.
 
The beginning feels like a Movie World ride meets Sovereign Hill show – there’s a quirky, relaxed feeling before we’re taken into the stark performance space. The set features only a steel bed frame, two buckets and some rope. This is the Cascades Female Factory, Australia’s most significant female convict site near the foot of Mount Wellington.
 
Emily plays Mary Ford, a convict who was left for dead and held in Van Diemen’s Land where she’s tortured, tormented and told how very lucky she is to have survived the journey from the UK. Throughout This is Eden, Mary Ford morphs into other characters from the prison to paint the full picture using only the steel bed frame and length of rope as props. Mary Ford plots her escape and goes from eloquent to grotesque quicker than most – providing parallels of the way we think about Australia’s strained relationship with its own history, our current views on refugees and immigrants, and the mistreatment of the Indigenous population ever since the settlers arrived. This is Eden is the story too many Australians aren't taught in school – the treatment of female convicts, their resistance, rebellion and resilience.
 
This is Eden is a thought-provoking call to arms – it’s funny at times and can be tough in others – it’s this balance that makes Emily Goddard’s work so good.
 
By Ryan Najelski