Lawrie and Shirley

Geoff Page. The Street Theatre. 14 to 23 Oct

‘A Poem, a Movie, a Play’

Based on Geoff Page’s verse novel written in the style of a screenplay, Lawrie and Shirley: The Final Candanza, this show has metamorphosed into a one-woman (performed by Chrissie Shaw) ‘rhyming quatrain’ stage show.

Submitted to The Street Theatre’s Made in Canberra writing development program in 2009, the script was originally intended as a two-person production.
However, the sudden illness of the male lead, Oliver Baudert, saw the show reworked and condensed into its present form.

The story itself is about an elderly widow on the Canberra singles scene who captures the heart of an eighty-year-old playboy with a colourful reputation.
When they begin a serious relationship, their respective children worry about their parents’ new lovers’ intentions and scheme to break them up – despite the authentic happiness Lawrie and Shirley have found together.

As the film projector sound effects at the beginning and end imply, this play is a scene-by-scene run through of a screenplay in verse. With minimal set design and lighting effects, Chrissie Shaw relies on manoeuvring through the scenes by calling the location and time of day, and moving to designated areas on the stage marked in chalk to signify transition.

It’s a good thing the script was condensed for the final production, as any longer would have been too much for one actor to carry alone. As it was, Chrissie Shaw did an outstanding job of maintaining the audience’s attention with her energy and humour for the duration.

However, I’m not quite sure the reworked version of Lawrie and Shirley to a solo performance has been completely successful in writing out the on-stage male character. I craved to witness the chemistry between Lawrie and Shirley for myself, and felt his presence missing throughout.

What would also have made this play more engaging is a more intimate use of lighting and props. For a play about romance the atmosphere created was a little too stark and cold and needed some warmth for punctuation.

In saying this, there were some very funny, camp and tender moments, delivered brilliantly through Geoff Page’s clever and descriptive verse, and charmingly enhanced by Ewan Foster on violin and viola. The final scenes are especially touching, displaying a real depth to the characters and some memorable lines.

If you enjoy Banjo Patterson-style entertainment, then it’s likely you’ll enjoy Lawrie and Shirley: a sweet and dignified account of love ‘over the other side of the hill’.

By Deborah Hawke

Lawrie and Shirley is playing at The Street Theatre in Canberra until October 23.