Pat McEvoy’s weekly reviews as published in the Waterford News & Star
REVIEW: Jetty Stars at Garter Lane
‘JETTY Stars’ makes for an uncomfortable night’s viewing. A gritty piece of drama, this 90 minutes of powerful theatre is not for the faint-hearted. Set on the deserted North Wharf of the Waterford docks, Stella, a middle-aged prostitute and a ‘Jetty Star’ on her release from prison, re-visits the circumstances that led her to murder her lover and pimp Saleem, a Libyan seaman. And Stella tells her tale in graphic detail that leaves little to the imagination.
It’s not a tale that speaks well of the Irish state. Teen pregnancy, sexual and physical abuse, clerical corruption and abuse, drink, drugs, prostitution are all factors that result in the murder of Stella’s violent North African lover and pimp. In truth, there are probably too many stories at work here as there must be enough material to work several scripts.
Waterford playwright Noel Kelly weaves his tale well so that we are left with a web of interweaving storylines that involve many people and issues. This writer goes beneath the obvious to tease out the emotions. The heart of this story is murder but at the soul of the narrative is how the victim acted and reacted to what life threw at her.
Stella is justifiably cynical and no longer cares about public opinion. Daily Mirror coverage of her trial has inured her to opprobrium. Despite the history of a woman that has earned a living on her back, the romantic in her still brought her to places deep within the recesses of her being that she thought were dead. She recalls the first evening with Saleem as he talks to her of constellations under a starry sky and promises the sailor’s promise – that he would always take care of her.
It doesn’t talk long to find out otherwise. As the relationship develops, so does the violence. An infant that was stabbed to death and dumped in the river in a discarded coal sack finally brings her to her senses. For a while. His subsequent return and violent abuse of her daughter who he now pimps leads to a chaotic night of murder and catharsis. Saleem dead and his body dumped in the river seems the perfect ending for Stella and her daughter Sharon.
Unfortunately, the river yields up its secrets and Stella and Sharon are gaoled for murder. The river is everywhere in this drama. Like a torrent of fate that flows inevitably towards disaster and it is to this river that Stella constantly turns. For pleasure, for peace of mind, for work, for romance and for death and destruction. The river yields up the dumped bodies of her infant daughter and her abusive lover to destroy Stella and yet it is to the North Wharf that Stella returns after her prison sentence of seventeen years.
Noelle Clarke is excellent as the abused Stella and commands the stage with gritty determination to tell Stella’s story. Noelle captures the tangled mass of contradictions that is Stella: nasty and naive, abuser and abused, victim and violent, mangled and murderess. Lorraine’s voice convinces in many tones: soft and sympathetic, whispered and conspiratorial, naïve and confrontational. However, Clarke never disguises the violence that Stella is capable of when driven to it. You can hear it in her viscous, vulgar and brutal condemnations of nuns, priests, Saleem and all who abuse the powerless.
Stagemad Director James Power directs his controversial material with sensitivity; allowing the facts to speak for themselves as Stella’s journey of pain is dumped on the floor of Garter Lane like Monday’s washing. Hall’s massive grain silos stand as a picture witness to Stella’s vulnerability and the tide’s debris scattered across the stage is a vivid metaphor for the prostitute’s lot in a life not chosen.
Funded by the BAI with the Television Licence Fee, ‘Jetty Stars’ was originally broadcast as part of the Waterford Imagine Arts Festival on WLRfm with Michael Grant as Executive Producer. The radio production has recently been shortlisted for a National IMRO Drama Award.