Coda for Shirley

How pleasant to come across a play where the main character looks back at her life, not with regret about lost lovers or missed opportunities, but with satisfaction on what fate has handed her.

In this final play in a trilogy of verse plays written by Canberra playwright, Geoff Page, which commenced with Laurie and Shirley, followed by Cara Carissima and finally Coda for Shirley – Shirley is now 81 years old. She has written her will, and knowing that her two daughters, Sarah (Nikki-Lynn Hunter) and Jane (Elaine Noon), will not be pleased with her decisions about what they consider to be their inheritances, decides to write them a letter explaining her motivations.

During the course of the play, we hear Shirley’s version of events, the daughter’s versions of the same events, as well as from Jen (Alex McPherson) the almost-wife of one of Shirley’s two adult grandsons, and herself an unwitting beneficiary of Shirley’s will.

Page’s poetry is witty and graceful. The actors are largely successful in achieving a naturalistic delivery of the verse so that the listener quickly becomes involved in the storytelling, only occasionally being jolted by an obvious or misplaced rhyme.

Micki Beckett gives a charming portrayal as Shirley, now confined to a wheelchair by hips that haven’t worn as well as she has. She’s content with her 30 year marriage to Ted, and unrepentant of her late-in-life fling with Lawrie, after Ted had died.

She has no delusions about her daughter’s ambitions, and loves them in spite of their flaws and their disapproval of her relationship with Lawrie. She derives particular pleasure from the attentions of her two adult grandsons, both university drop-outs, one to pursue dreams of becoming a rock star, the other to work in community health.

Director Kate Blockhouse has opted for a static production, with the emphasis on the delivery of the writing. Rohan Moss’ appropriately simple set design has Shirley seated in a wheelchair centre stage for the duration of the play.

Her two daughters’ occupy stools at a bar on one side of the stage, with the other side taken up by a large circular garden swing from which the almost-wife of one of her grandsons delivers her lines. Each area is illuminated as required to indicate changes of locale. The rhythm is leisurely and the delivery concise, giving the play a dream-like quality.

This works very well at first, because the play is mostly concerned with memories. However the lack of visual stimuli together with a surfeit of details referencing events dealt with in the first two plays, together with a succession of false climaxes towards the end suggesting some reluctance by the author to let go of his characters, leaves the impression that as enjoyable as it is, Coda For Shirley would benefit from some judicious cutting and tightening.


Coda For Shirley
The Courtyard Studio – Canberra Theatre Centre, London Circuit, Canberra
Performance: Tuesday 4 December 2018
Season continues to 8 December 2018
Information and Bookings: www.canberratheatrecentre.com.au

Image: Micki Beckett as Shirley in Coda for Shirley – photo by Femke Withag

Review: Bill Stephens OAM

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