117: Coralie Landsdowne Says No

16 Jul

This 1974 play by Alexander Buzo is interesting on a whole lot of levels. You can read it and think about attitudes and convention in Australia in the 70s, you can relate it to attitudes now, and you can look at it as an exploration of strong women and the tall poppy syndrome.

book over face

Coralie Landsdowne is 29. Now, that wouldn’t be seen as an issue but in 1974 she was considered to be teetering on spinsterhood.

CORALIE: I’m twenty-nine. In a few months my youth will be at an end. […] Thirty is death. I want to spend my thirtieth birthday in Bali on a beach surrounded by black candles.

Add to this that she’s tall, big-boned (a euphemism that I love) and has a tongue that can shred a person’s self-esteem in seconds and you have a woman who is in a whole lot of trouble. Because she’s whip smart and strong, Coralie attracts people to her. Some of them want to tame her, some want to own her and some seem to enjoy cowering at her feet.

In Buzo’s play, Coralie has been left to look after a wealthy paramour’s beach house while he’s overseas. Her plain sister Jill is staying with her and there are also several house guests. There’s Peter, a wealthy neighbour with an eye patch, Paul (who was Coralie’s great love some years before) and his wife Anne, and there’s poet and public servant Stuart. Peter is intrigued by Coralie, Paul is still a bit in love with her and Stuart is determined to marry her.

There are some lines that have dated so badly I’m not sure how an actor could possibly say them now as written. For instance when Coralie jokes that her sister has high hopes of being raped. Nope – not funny now, or ever. The many references to Coralie’s “big tits” are also just plain clunky as is this comment of Paul’s:

PAUL: I still don’t know if what she needs most is a lot of loving or a well-aimed live telegraph pole in the region of her crutch.

Coralie ends up choosing (or settling for) Stuart: the short, dogged, uninspired public servant who has tracked her down and worn her down. It could be a happy ending: beautiful princess falls for valiant and persevering peasant, or it could be a tragedy: strong woman is whittled down by yobs and gives up all her dreams. She does try to say ‘no’ but at some point she runs out of breath (literally).

STUART: I’m asking you to marry me. What do you say?

CORALIE: No! No! I say no to the worm. I tell the worm to piss off out of it. No! Oh, I want to, I want to hit you!

STUART: Just as I thought.

CORALIE: No! Do you understand that, you treacherous little pipsqueak. You worm. I say no! (Rushing to a window and yelling out) I say no! No! I spurn the worm! I want out! I tell the worm to piss off!

But Stuart cuts her down a few lines later:

STUART: You’re just a twenty-nine year old unemployed teacher with big tits. You’re also fatter around the hips and arse than you were a few months ago.

Perhaps Coralie does end up happy, but her choking fit and collapse make it seem as if some elemental part of her has died in ‘settling’ for mediocrity.

Publisher: Currency Press and Methuen Plays

Cast: 4M, 3F

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