Following its premiere season as part of Anywhere Festival in May, Eve’s Game returns to Miegunyah House, Bowen Hills, with tea, sleuthing, song, and a feminist perspective on womanhood in the Victorian era.
Written by Jo Willans, who also performed the role of Prudence, and directed by Tim Monley, Eve’s Game was performed in Miegunyah House, a museum run by The Queensland Women’s Historical Association and dedicated to sharing the stories of significant Queensland women.
Recently returned to Brisbane from her 1884 debut in London, the charming and witty Eve Harrison – based on a real Brisbane woman, Evelyn Harrison, who would eventually be the mother of Australia’s 16th Governor-General Lord Casey – gathered her friends to her home for tea and parlour games. The audiences was welcomed by the gracious hostess (performed with warmth, vigour, and humour, by Ashlea Sloman) and her maid, Prudence (played by Jo Willans), and enjoyed tea on the verandah. After regaling her friends with tales and learnings from her time in London, including meeting Queen Victoria, Eve invited the audience to play a game of Paschal (inspired by Mrs Paschal, one of the first lady detectives in literature). Designated as detectives of the Paschal Lady-Detective Agency, the audience moved around the space, aided by Prudence and Eve, to discover and decipher clues in the case of a young woman’s disappearance before her wedding.
Along the way, the audience learned about the subtle languages of flowers and fans, as well as a range of vocabulary, social expectations and rituals from the 1880s. The work also touched on class division through the character of Prudence, who assisted Eve in the game and who Eve encouraged to speak freely. The game, designed by Gianni Tills, Jo Willans and Tim Monley, unfurled between the rooms and allowed for the exploration of the house, collaboratively solving puzzles, and learning about the life of an accomplished and intelligent young woman interested in pursuing tertiary education and becoming a doctor in the 1880s, but expected and supported only to find a suitable husband.
Miegunyah House, built in 1885 and initially the residence of the Perry family, provided a beautiful and historically appropriate surrounding for this performance. Grounded in considerable research, Eve’s Game also included many-layered period costuming designed by Sally Dennis, and a wide array of props as the audience gathered and interpreted clues together, from locked trunks and items of clothing to calling cards, poems, and letters (with illustration by Jennifer Horn). Sloman and Willans’ excellent and committed performances of their characters brought a sense of genuine companionship and community to the experience.
A Republic of Song performance is never without beautiful music and, accompanied by Willans on piano, Sloman sang a piece from Princess Ida, which premiered in the same year that Eve’s Game is set, and an impressive rendition of the famous Queen of the Night aria from Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute, her voice clear and ringing through the room as the audience gathered around the piano.
In addition to being a fabulously fun interactive performance in beautiful heritage surroundings, Eve’s Game encouraged us to consider the significant contributions that could have been made – and those that were made, without attribution or recognition – by these earlier generations of women if they had been given equal opportunity to pursue their passions and curiosity.