The scene is England, around 1910. A woman in her late 20s is relaxing in a bath. Suddenly, what should have been a calming evening turns gruesome: Her newlywed husband drowns her, framing it as an accident and inheriting the insurance money.
It sounds like fiction, but it's the true story behind Neptune Theatre's latest offering, The Drowning Girls, opening Thursday and running in the Studio Theatre until May 1. The play is inspired by the famous serial killer George Joseph Smith, who drowned three of his wives, earning them the nickname "the bathtub brides."
Actors Leah Pritchard and Ryanne Chisholm insist the play isn't about Smith. Rather, they hope to give a voice to those he killed. The Drowning Girls is focused on the brides "reclaiming the legitimacy of their own lives," says Pritchard, wide-eyed.
Chisholm nods, sipping her coffee. During the play, she explains, each bride watches her past unfold from the tub she was drowned in. "The story of their lives comes out of the bathtub."
While the fate of three women 100 years ago can feel far from today, both actors suggest the play's themes are very current. "It's a fight against victim-blaming," says Pritchard. "And it's also about forgiving yourself," adds Chisholm. Since women of that time were expected to marry by 20, a mix of society's expectations and longing for romance made them rush into marriage. "Equality has come a long way but it hasn't come far enough," says Chisholm.
Both actors want the story of these women to mean more than a horror story. "We're fascinated with murderers," Chisholm says. "But you continue the killer's job by erasing the identities of the victims."
The Drowning Girls
To May 1
Neptune Studio Theatre, 1593 Argyle Street
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