Review of The Ballad of Rosie Quinn by Elise Lawrence

Put on your blindfold and descend into the past with Republic of Song as they present a sensory experience about Rosie Quinn, a convict girl in the Moreton Bay penal colony.

You’ve never heard a ghost story told quite like this. Republic of Song has created an intense experience that transports their audience to the hellish life of Irish convicts in the Moreton Bay Penal Settlement under the notoriously cruel Captain Patrick Logan.

The performance is a work of fiction and considers the forgotten women of the penal colonies – some of them not criminals themselves but transported with their husbands, or born in the colonies like Rosie Quinn. Sent from Paramatta to Moreton Bay to be with her mother, who dies a week before her arrival, Rosie is fortunate to work in the house of Patrick Logan, tending to his wife and children. But the military men are not as genteel as they seem to Rosie, and she may lose more than her innocence if she seeks the truth.

The work is rooted in research done by the show’s creators into Brisbane’s history, and is inspired by an anecdote of an infamous 1832 incident at the Female Factory, the women’s primary place of work and residence, in which sailors, officers, and convicts were found drunk in the women’s quarters. The subsequent inquiry into this misbehaviour discovered that there were hidden keys, and that the men gave themselves regular access to the women. The Ballad of Rosie Quinn imagines the extreme misogyny and sexual violence that these women may have been forced to live with, and asks whether they had any control over their fate as convict women, often dismissed as prostitutes, in a strange and infernal land.

The performance is presented in the round, with the audience seated between the archways of Spring Hill’s decommissioned reservoirs, and the voices of the actors and singers ring off the stone walls. Everything is bigger blindfolded, and the acoustics of the space allow the audience to hear clearly the directions of the voices, as well as the beautiful live music and sound effects used by the cast. Smell is also used, although the combination of all these sensory elements can threaten to become overwhelming – audiences are encouraged to lift their blindfold if they are feeling uncomfortable.

A deeply moving production, with such clever attention to detail in designing a non-visual show, The Ballad of Rosie Quinn is a chilling reflection on our history and the way that we remember it.

Content warnings: violence, sexual abuse. Recommended for 15+.

Please note: It gets quite cold underground, especially if you attend the double bill with Full Steam Ahead, so dress warmly. Unfortunately, there is no disabled access in this venue.

Republic of Song performed The Ballad of Rosie Quinn at Spring Hill Reservoirs on May 18-20 at 7pm.

Review of May 20 performance.