REVIEW: The Drowning Girls at Guild Festival Theatre

Photo by Raph Nogal.

One drowning’s a tragedy. Two’s an interesting coincidence. But three? Three’s a pattern. 

That’s what three seemingly unrelated women come to realize after their untimely deaths at the hands of the same man in The Drowning Girls by Beth Graham, Charlie Tomlinson, and Daniela Vlaskalic. Directed by Helen Juvonen for Guild Festival Theatre, this hauntingly beautiful story of the lives and loves of these three women leaves a lasting impression.

The Drowning Girls details the stories of Bessie, Alice, and Margaret, who all meet the same fate of drowning in the bath not long after getting married. All three encounter a mysterious and wonderful man while on holiday; swept off their feet, they agree to marry him rather quickly. Suspiciously, all three get life insurance policies at the behest of their husband, make wills totally in his favour upon their death, and take out their entire life savings, only to be found by their husband in the tub days later. With intricate details told beautifully by the spirits of the brides, The Drowning Girls is captivating from start to finish.

The Greek Theatre in Guild Park makes for a striking, eerie backdrop for The Drowning Girls. As the sun sets, and the play approaches its dark conclusion, Adam Walters’ lighting design gives the towering pillars, as well as the three bathtubs on stage, a supernatural glow. Practical and entertaining, Kalina Popova’s design is brilliant; these elements work in tandem to remind the audience that this is a ghost story, and how perfect it is that we’re gathered outside to hear such a spooky tale. Amongst the swaying trees and garden of ruins, The Greek Theatre in Guild Park has the perfect ambiance for such a tale; you feel as if you’re gathered around the campfire while you’re being regaled with stories from the underworld. 

The bathtubs themselves are functional, with shower heads above to douse the actors in water at pivotal moments in the plot. The period-style costuming not only cements the time-frame in which the play takes place, but also highlights how drenched the girls become with each return to their tub. The tubs serve their purpose as the place of death for each bride, but also store the props for the women to tell their stories. It’s almost comical how many items materialize from inside the tubs, all waterproof and dripping, just like the actors themselves. 

The text itself is poetic and engaging, handled masterfully by its actors. An intriguing element of the text is how the stories of the women are so tragic, but that tragedy is then juxtaposed against hilarious side characters. The bankers, cleaning women, and even the man who swindles these ladies elicited plenty of laughter from the audience on opening night, allowing for moments of release and relief amidst the building tension of each bride’s story. 

Alicia Barban, Georgia Findlay, and Blythe Haynes star in The Drowning Girls; their emotional and compelling performances entrancing the audience. Barban’s Bessie is the first victim, and Barban gives her such a sweet and vulnerable disposition. Her banker character, too, will have you in stitches, while Bessie absolutely broke my heart. Findlay plays the sassy, feisty Alice, the next drowned bride — her vivacity and light make Alice so endearing, and her comedic timing is fabulous. Haynes’ Margaret is the third and final bride, her composed and proper nature a good contrast against the other two characters. Her performance is chilling, and her passion comes through in every word. The three women work harmoniously to tell the haunting stories of their characters and the whirlwind romances that led them to their demise. In these moments their synchronicity is eerie, reinforcing the otherworldly nature of the tale they’re telling.

I must commend these three actors on not only delivering excellent performances, but doing so sopping wet and on a rather chilly evening. Opening night was only around 17 degrees, and the wind was up; we were all bundled up out in the audience, but the actors did the show in full without a pause despite being wet throughout. Stage management ensured that hot water was loaded into their tubs, and they persevered through the performance to great applause and appreciation. 

Whether it’s your first time at Guild Park or you’re a season regular, you won’t want to miss this production of The Drowning Girls. A perfect start to #spookyszn, this incredible story will send shivers down your spine. 

The Drowning Girls runs at Guild Festival Theatre through August 27. Tickets are available here.

Intermission reviews are independent and unrelated to Intermission’s partnered content. Learn more about Intermission’s partnership model here.

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Written By

Janine Marley is an independent theatre reviewer born in Kingsville, Ontario and has been a Torontonian since November 2020. She holds Honours BA and MA Degrees from the University of Windsor in English Language and Literature with her studies primarily focused on theatre. She began acting at a young age and continued acting in productions until 2018. She started her blog, A View from the Box, as a personal project to share her passion for theatre.