THE current Australian and world premiere season of “Coda for Shirley” concludes Geoff Page’s trio of verse plays chronicling the poignant love affair of Shirley and Lawrie in the last decade of their lives.
In the previous episodes, these two ordinary Canberrans meet at a senior citizens afternoon tea dance, scandalise their families and friends by shacking-up, take a once-in-a-lifetime European tour and ultimately share a blissful marriage of true minds.
After Lawrie dies in a motor accident, Shirley (played by Micki Beckett) lives on alone and has now gone to join him.
In this final episode, Page has given Shirley the daunting task of reviewing her life, her will and, confined to a wheel chair, explaining her final decisions, in absentia, to her estranged and competitive daughters Sarah (played by Nikki-Lyn Hunter) and Jane (Elaine Noon).
All three of those actors have varying degrees of success in expressing their characters through the medium of the stylised verse form; too often it seems that the technical requirements of the verse overtake their ability to convey the reality of what their characters are grappling with.
It comes as some surprise that the youngest member of the cast, Alex McPherson, who plays Jen, the girlfriend of one of Shirley’s grandsons, does so well to manage the poetical form in bringing her character to life.
This is not to say that the text does not deserve serious commendation in the way that it blends highly sophisticated metaphors and literary references with apt colloquialisms, often in very witty rhyme forms.
In doing so, however, it spends many words and much time on, for example, telling what the characters – particularly errant husbands and individualistic grandsons – are about, rather than bringing those quite interesting characters onto the stage to speak for themselves.
The set and lighting designs (Ronan Moss and Ben Pik respectively) are tight and reinforce the poetic, yet static, nature of the production, requiring the actors to rely on the text, when more action and fewer words would more effectively convey the emotional context of the theatrical moment.