Lawrie and Shirley

Lawrie and Shirley
By Geoff Page. Director: PJ Williams. The Street Theatre, Acton, ACT. 14 – 23 October 2011

You may think you’ve seen everything on stage, but have you ever seen a play, of a poem, of a movie, about octogenarian sex? Lawrie Wellcome, life-long libertine and baroque music buff, has been in and out of ladies’ lives and beds well into his 80s, which you have to admit is impressive if socially unacceptable. Shirley Dunn, 70, who lost her husband a decade ago, has lived a life of stolid respectability. Having been chosen by Lawrie as his delight for the night, she seizes the chance to grab a little last minute adventure. Drifting Lawrie for the first time in his adult life finds stability and the chance, for once, to finally get things right.

More than anything, this is poetry, performed with verve by Chrissie Shaw alone. Chrissie guides us through the gentle but carnal humorous tale of end-of-life love. The sex described is respectful and real – not raunchy, not forbidden, but an everyday joy, a mundane celebration. Page’s humorous verse presents the story as though it were a movie, complete with scene directions and credits. The descriptions are therefore almost pedantically visual, and the simple, but the clever set does not distract from the mental imagery conjured by the words. Keeping track of those images is quite a demand of an audience, but Chrissie Shaw’s varied rhythm, timing and characterisation engage and delight throughout. The mostly baroque music, brilliantly played by Ewan Foster on violin and viola, suits perfectly and lifts and gives depth to the character of Lawrie, who could so easily have seemed a bit sleazy.

The set is like an art installation. Perspex panels, printed with photographs, hanging from wire mounted just in front of the back wall so that the light projects through them to the wall behind, creating fluid double images. On the floor is painted a map with the settings—“loud Italian restaurant”, “Shirley’s Flat” etc—reminiscent of the Garden of Dreams from the National Museum.

Interestingly, this is more the Canberra I know than that the high-powered stress presented so beautifully in Alana Valentine’s play MP. This poem contains distinctive Canberra types—the uptight, suburban Mum, nouveau-riche with a four-wheel drive to ferry her perfectly dressed children around to after-school activities; the aging career woman with nothing better to do than manipulate; the 50-year-old bore who blames his failures on others—characters that demonstrate how over-privilege can spoil adults as much as children. Then there are the beauties and pleasures of Canberra—roads weaving through yellow grass fields, and the stunning Canberra autumn, all gold red and warmth.

That old people do have sex, and young people don’t deal with it, is a subversive message worth repeating. One day I’d love to see the movie this play and poem describe.

Cathy Bannister

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