Is ordinary a dirty word?
Published on 08 March 2023
Ordinary is practically a dirty word. From birth there is a suffocating push to be ‘special’, but what if those everyday things people do and take for granted are indeed special? That’s one of the themes explored in celebrated Australian playwright, Peta Murray’s heart-warming, reflective play, Wallflowering. It’s masterfully directed by the award-winning, Denny Lawrence who brings out all of its pathos and humour.
On the surface, the play is about an ordinary middle-aged suburban married couple who were once championship ballroom dancers. Once the taffeta is brushed away, the play reveals more. Cliff and Peg Small, played by acclaimed stage and television actors, Dennis Coard and Jenny Seedsman, are real three- dimensional characters who evolve across many years as a couple and as individuals. The audience has front row seats to this metamorphosis.
When Denny was approached by Christine Harris, managing director of HIT Productions, he was keen to take the play on. “The writing is wonderful. It’s a very balanced view of a positive relationship where the couple work through the challenges of marriage. Ballroom dancing has kept them together because they have to move in unison, but when that breaks down and they are out of step with each other, they have to find a way back,” Denny says.
“The essence of the play is about exposing a deeper understanding of the human condition. Henry David Thoreau said, ‘Most men live lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them’. We can learn from that. We can all seize the day and do something with our lives. The message of the play is: be true to yourself and find a way to express that truth.
When I read this play, I saw it as a piece about a woman’s journey, and the weight of sympathy will be with her trying to remake her life, but we must not forget the man. Both characters must be fully fleshed for the play to work. It does. I worked closely with Peta to see what needed to be tweaked for a modern audience so we are presenting a universal scene,” he adds.
Cliff and Peg look back on their younger years as championship ballroom dancers viewing themselves through that romantic lens beautifully represented for the audience by projections of championship ballroom dancers, Rhett & Emma Salmon. The projections are a metaphor made real and a counterpoint to where Cliff and Peg are now.
The couple struggle to focus from behind their rose-coloured glasses. “They are frustrated by their ordinariness. We all aspire to be special in some way, to be loved and admired. Cliff wants all of that, but Peg just wants to grow and be more independent,” Denny says. Their divergent views threaten to tear them apart.
Cliff wants to be an author, but can’t seem to get beyond a list of possible titles. Meanwhile, Peg, spurred on by her feminist friends, wants to transcend her traditional roles as housewife and mother for something bigger, beyond her husband.
Cliff and Peg must return to the elegance of the waltz and its perfect unison to save their marriage. Will they? You’ll have to see the play to find out. Wallflowering is touching, funny and relatable. If it inspires change and growth in its audience, even better. Isn’t that what live theatre is all about?
Wallflowering by HIT Productions tours to Frankston Arts Centre on Sunday 26 March as part of the 2023 Theatre Season. Tickets can be purchased online at thefac.com.au or by calling 03 9784 1060.
By Andrea Louise Thomas