Voyage-photo-by-Daniel-BurkeVoyage traces the stories of two women emigrating from Britain to Australia in 1833. Through a myriad of characters and song, we follow the fortunes of The Good Girl (Carly Ellis) and Elizabeth Wade (Penny Larkins) as they contend not only with a long, difficult journey at sea, but also the hard reality of the country and opportunities that await them at the end of it.

Part of the charm of the play comes from the unassuming fashion of its staging. Nudged to one side of the space, warm lights accentuate the scuffed floorboards with a scattering of items and some chairs for the musicians.

Director Ruby Rees has crafted a relaxed experience for the audience, but there’s nothing slack about any of it. Every moment – whether scenes of conflict, fear, banter, dancing, salacity, or fourth wall kicking hijinks with the musos – was crafted, polished, and in absolute service to the story.

Helen Begley (who also wrote Voyage), Penelope Swales, and Kylie Morrigan were a charismatic and entertaining trio of musicians with their respective guitar, whistle, and violin walking a terrific highwire of period and contemporary sounds.

Carly gave a beautiful performance, charting an authentic path from idealistic, naïve Good Girl to… well, still a Good Girl, but a more seasoned and resilient one. Penny’s role as Elizabeth was a delightfully bawdy counterpoint to The Good Girl. It would be easy to play the role with a kind of one-note crudeness, good for laughs and little else.

However, it speaks to the quality of Penny’s performance – not-to-mention – Helen’s writing that for all the shock that comes with Elizabeth, there’s also wisdom, compassion, and heart.

The ending initially felt quite abrupt, almost unsatisfying in a way, but then – having sat through a show that shifted so organically from moment to moment, character to character – you realise that to wrap every story thread up neatly in a happy ending would be disingenuous.

Particularly when so many of the issues brought up during the piece – sexism, slut-shaming, racism, even some proto-toxic masculinity – have also yet to receive a happy ending during the last 188 years since when Voyage is set.

The Good Girl Project have produced a wonderful show with Voyage that deserves as many passengers to fortyfivedownstairs as it can get.

fortyfivedownstairs, 45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne
Performance: Friday 14 May 2021
Season continues to 23 May 2021

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Image: Carly Ellis and Penny Larkins star in Voyage – photo by Daniel Burke

Review: David Collins