Margery Forde sent me Wallflowering by Peta Murray and it’s been a delight to read.
Wallflowering is a play with a gentle heart, insight and plenty of warm humour. Its two protagonists, Cliff and Peg, are a married couple who’ve always fitted together comfortably and unexcitingly, but now find themselves out of step with life and each other.
The joy the two have always shared is their ballroom dancing, but now even this has lost its ability to make them feel in step with each other. Peta Murray wrote this play in 1988 for two actors and two dancers. She describes scenes where the perfect, idealised versions of the characters (because that’s what the ballroom dancers are, in effect) appear and dance the tensions, dreams and fears of their counterparts.
Cliff grew up thinking he was gifted and still seeks fame, uncomfortable with the fact that he’d actually rather watch TV than set new records or achieve anything special. Peg, on the other hand, was very comfortable with ordinary and uneventful until her friends at work started having a go at her.
CLIFF: We’re trying to tell you what happens when you’re brought up to believe that you’re extraordinary, gifted, special. That’s what they told me. You’re not the run-of-the-mill man-in-the-street. But the older you get, the smaller you get, until gradually, though at first you only suspect it, you can read the writing on the wall. And it tells you that you’re ordinary. Yes. You’re just the common-or-garden variety, the same as all the others. And that can destroy a man. And she’s trying to tell you what happens when you’re brought up knowing you’re ordinary, and you’re happy that way, and then people start to tell you that you’re not ordinary and you’re not happy. And that can destroy a marriage.
Peg’s friends introduce her to textbook feminism, attempt to make her over into someone more polished, try to get her drunk and insist that she’ll be happier if she lets out the anger they’re sure she’s holding. But this isn’t delivered through scenes with the girlfriends, it’s all done through the dialogue of the two actors, who talk directly to the audience as if to a counsellor, helping each other fill in gaps in the story.
CLIFF: A little learning is a dangerous thing.
PEG: Is it?
CLIFF: Look what it’s done to us.
Cliff worries about the effect the feminist texts are having on his wife, while Peg worries that everyone else is reading them and she’s the only one not. At first she gives them back, unread, and makes excuses when quizzed about the contents but one day she finds herself reading.
PEG: But I was scared. I thought: What will become of us all now? When we have all finished talking about hating our mothers and loving our fathers, and mistrusting our men, and hating our children for the pain they gave us, and touching each other, and touching ourselves? What will become of us when we have finished talking about all these things? What will we have left?
Peg and Cliff win our hearts through their humour and lack of pretension. The world can be cruel as they discover, but, then again, if you’re the sort of person who goes to a party dressed up as a carrot, you have to get used to the occasional snigger.
Publisher: Currency Press
Cast: 1M, 1F plus 2 dancers