Wallflowering (Peta Murray)

Bruce Myles (director)
Playhouse Theatre

reviewed by Neville Cohn

For a little over two hours, with no intermission to break the spell, Noeline Brown and Doug Scroope bring to their roles as a long-married couple going through a troubled time the sort of understated artistry that critics dream about but seldom encounter in the theatre.

Past middle age, apparently childless (and therefor no grandchildren to bring some cheer into their drab suburban existences) and heading uncertainly into early old age, this couple who seem uncomfortable with, and unequal to, societal change (not least that of rampant feminism) bounce their concerns off one another with what Thoreau termed ‘quiet desperation’.

Scroope is Cliff Small, a timid man, so desperate to present himself as more significant than he really is, that to bolster his self image, he builds on a long-ago prize for ballroom dancing with his wife Peggy by buying blank trophies which he has engraved as if awarded to him for this or that fictitious win.

Peggy, despite being troubled by seeds of self doubt, is, on the whole, more self-confident and feisty than the insecure Cliff who compulsively – but hopelessly – draws up lists such as catchy titles for the book he will never write. His great achievement is to have mastered the art of self deception.

It’s impossible not to feel for Cliff’s plight even while thinking that a good shaking would jolt him out of the quagmire of self-pity he’s drowning in. Metaphorically peering at the world through a glass darkly, Cliff leaves the impression that nothing short of a huge Division One win in Lotto and the attentions of some reigning screen queen could repair his battered and cracked self-image.

Whether so intended or not, Anna Borghesi’s dark and ugly
backing set design parallels Cliff’s depressing self assessment. Rachel Burke’s unpretentious lighting design materially aids evocation of mood. And the couple’s occasional dance turns (choreographed by Tony Bartuccio)
on a small circular dais mid-stage have about them a bittersweet sadness, rather like raking over old coals now burnt out and very cold.

With scarcely a foot put wrong in both senses of the term, the pair mull over disappointments and unconsummated dreams. It’s no mean achievement to do so for two hours without an intermission or weakening of focus.

Brown and Scroope rise to the challenge with all the finesse one has come to expect as a matter of course from two of the most polished professionals treading the Australian boards. Bravo!

Copyright 2004 Neville Cohn


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