Review: Begotten: The Radio Play (Minola Theatre)

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Begotten: The Radio Play

Listen online at the Minola Theatre website

Content and trigger warning: Please note that this production contains, and therefore this review may refer to, domestic violence and homicide, mature themes, and coarse language.

Adapted from a one-woman play into a radio drama during the COVID-19 lockdown, Minola Theatre is now streaming Begotten: The Radio Play, directed by Kat Dekker and with post-production sound design by Siobhan Finniss.

Begotten: The Radio Play tells the story of five generations of women over the course of a century, from Australia back through England and Ireland. Five monologues, written and performed by Bianca Butler Reynolds, introduce listeners to Alice, Eileen, Clea, Hazel, and Laoise; the threads of their lives weave together to tell a history of female experience spanning one hundred years, with thematic undercurrents of sin and sacrifice.

Listeners who attended Minola Theatre’s Love Triangle at the Ron Hurley Theatre in January will recognise the first monologue, as Alice contemplates her relationship, her childhood, and the thought of becoming a mother herself in 2019. The second monologue jumps into the late 1990’s, where Eileen feels overwhelmed by paranoia, her fracturing marriage, and her envy of her husband’s love for their daughter, compared to his impatience with her. In the 1970’s, Clea seeks vengeance for the death of her twin sister, Eileen’s mother, and to disentangle herself from the weight of oppression. While the bombs fall on 1940’s London, Hazel tells the story of naïve young love that saw her pregnant out of wedlock and cast out by her family, and Laoise battles seasickness and superstition in 1919 as she is forced into an unwanted marriage with an Englishman, who takes her away from her native Ireland.

These five vignettes told stories of heartbreak and joy, shame and sacrifice, and touched on ideas of prophesy and female power. I found elements of Clea’s monologue to be somewhat problematic – her sister’s graphic dreams of sexual submission that become a reality of domestic homicide felt uncomfortably close to victim blaming. Some of the narrative conclusions, such as Hazel’s chance final encounter with her ex-lover, felt neatly resolved in contrast to the family history style of the piece, but I have few objections to women’s narratives being granted the power and satisfaction of retribution, however realistic.

Bianca Butler Reynolds created distinctive voices for each woman, in both her writing and her acting, including Laoise’s Dublin accent. Historical and cultural touchstones – the Vietnam and Second World Wars, The Seekers and Suddenly Susan – helped to anchor each monologue more firmly in place and time. The quality of sound was crisp, each monologue easily understood and laden with emotion, and Siobhan Finniss’ post-production sound design made use of both subtle and definite sounds to emphasise the imagery being evoked.

The radio drama runs for 85 minutes and is available for download on a pay-what-you-will basis. Audiences are asked to consider paying the price of an average show ticket to help support the artists while theatres remain closed.

Begotten: The Radio Play transports audiences through five generations of women with vastly different experiences, plucking at the common threads of these stories and showing a transformation of women’s autonomy over a century as the characters grapple with womanhood and motherhood, poverty and war, love and grief, in their own times and in their own ways.

Begotten: The Radio Play is available on demand from Minola Theatre’s website.


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