Arts / ‘Shirley’ in rhyme, on stage is fine

COMING up at the Courtyard Studio is the final verse play in Canberra poet Geoff Page’s satirical triple-treat, “Lawrie and Shirley”, “Cara Carissima” and now “Coda for Shirley”.

Micki Beckett in the title role in “Coda for Shirley”.

“They were written in a different order”, Page explains over coffee in Manuka.

The first one was “Lawrie and Shirley”, in which a pair of Canberra senior citizens form a passionate relationship, much to the disgust and horror of Shirley’s conniving daughters.

In the second play, “Cara Carissima”, set in a Manuka coffee shop, Lawrie has already died and Shirley’s greedy daughters are working out how to ensure their inheritance. That was written as a play, (the others started out as verse novels) to fill out the story.
In the final play, Shirley reminisces, then dies, leaving her money not to the two girls, Jane and Sarah, but to the grandsons, who use it to buy a house in East Brunswick.

Here’s the tricky bit. Page, a relentless versifier, has written the entire hilarious trilogy in iambic tetrameter (four beat) quatrains with an “ABCB” rhyming scheme.

For those not in the know, here’s a short example from the play:

Each day comes and each day goes

the next exactly like the last

with all the shipwrecked sprawled in chairs,

thinking only of the past.

“This provides humour,” Page says. “But it’s a paradox to try and make colloquial dialogue in such an artificial form and have it sound convincing.”

Produced by local theatre identities Peter Wilkins, of The Acting Company, and Joe Woodward, of Shadow House Pits, “Coda” is directed by Kate Blackhurst who, with Page’s agreement, has rejigged it from three extended scenes to eight episodes. She has form, having played one of the daughters in “Cara Carissima” at the Courtyard a couple of years ago.

Shirley’s greedy daughters… Nikki-Lyn Hunter as Sarah and Elaine Noon as Jane.

Here’s roughly what happens. Shirley makes a will, then dies. The upwardly mobile sisters Sarah (Nikki-Lyn Hunter) and Jane (Elaine Noon) have a drunken dinner. The two grandsons, both uni dropouts but now doing good things, (one is a musician, the other works for Anglicare) have a housewarming in West Brunswick, where the girlfriend of one (Alex McPherson) recounts events for the audience. But throughout, there are segments of a long monologue by the now-dead Shirley (Micki Beckett).

“What Kate has done is filmic in a way,” Page says approvingly.

Generally he keeps out of rehearsals and trusts Blackhurst who “has assured me they all understand it”.

“I want to go at least once and hear how it sounds. I like the theatre but I’m a bit of an outsider in the theatre community, but I admire the serious dedication of theatre people,” he says.

“Coda for Shirley” by Geoff Page, Courtyard Studio December 4-8. Book at 6275 2700.

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Helen Musa
“CityNews” arts editor

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