Saturday, June 10, 2023

The Waltz


The Waltz by David Cole.  Presented in the Q The Locals series at The Q, Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre, June 9-10, 2023.
First performed at Goulburn Performing Arts Centre, October 2022.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
June 9

Writer – David Cole   
Director – Jock McLean; Original Director – Dave Letch
Production Manager – Sarah Harris
Lighting – Blake Selmes; Sound – David Cole

Pauline Mullen (Irene) and Martin Saunders (Alf)

From Goulburn PAC: In Memorium David Letch

The Waltz is a celebration of life as two people in their 70s meet on a park bench at Bondi. They rediscover their connection from the 1960s, as members of the radical group The Push. They help each other take back control of their increasingly regulated lives. The Waltz has made audiences laugh and cry. It is full of wit, humor, and music. The Waltz has toured villages in Southern NSW in 2022, courtesy of funding from Create NSW.

The premiere season of the play was directed by the late, great David Letch, who tragically passed away recently.  Letch also fell in love with the characters.  He said "The play is about life and never letting your inner child die.  You're never too old to grow and have fun".
David lived by that adage himself and we offer this very special performance in his memory.

Author David Cole is quoted in advertising for a presentation of The Waltz at a vineyard: “I was spending a bit of time in Sydney in 2015, and I came across a number of ‘golden oldies’ in the pools around Bondi, and they were really grabbing life by the throat,” he explained.

“At the same time, I was also reading a book which was all about these people who were flouting authority back in the 50s and early 60s.”

Being now 82 – apparently some ten years older than Irene and Alf in The Waltz – I view David Cole’s play with some reservations.  Like the fictional Alf, but in reality, I in 1958 was active politically in the Sydney University Labour Club, a little on the sidelines of The Push.  

In about 1960, I left as the Labour Club split between those specifically wedded to the Australian Labor Party, and others who moved to the Communist Party of Australia.  I moved on to a-political bushwalking after attending a heavily ideological CPA lecture, while also attaching myself to the Push-related Realist Writers with plans to write a great Australian novel.  

Though I was not among those recorded in Wikipedia: Well known associates of the Push include Richard Appleton, Jim Baker, Lex Banning, Eva Cox, Robyn Davidson, Margaret Fink, John Flaus, Germaine Greer, George Molnar, Robert Hughes, Harry Hooton, Clive James, Sasha Soldatow, David Makinson, Jill "Blue" Neville, Paddy McGuinness, Frank Moorhouse, David Perry, Lillian Roxon and Darcy Waters. From 1961 to 1962, poet Les Murray resided in Brian Jenkins's Push household at Glen Street, Milsons Point, I had been to school with David Makinson, but found my free-thinking and sexually diverse interests nearer to the University from the Downtown Push in a group house in Glebe.  Drinking took place at the Forest Lodge pub.

My first problem with The Waltz is that the old-age characters of Irene and Alf just do not feel like Push characters.  They are both written with traits superficially related to David Cole’s ideas of how they would have been radicals in his conventional picture of the ‘conservative’ 1950s, but there is no depth to how they might have grown out of the real political and social movements of that time.

The question of how, in old age, we deal with the business of how we should die is, of course, very relevant now, particularly as our states and territories grapple with our right to voluntary assisted dying, but the presentation of these characters never engaged realistically or believably with the feelings of despair at losing control, when realising how close one’s death is, can be generated.

And then I must say that the plot, with its twist at the end of dying without the intended assistance, was predictable and even almost comic.  Alf’s often quite extraordinary mannerisms, and the brief indications in Irene of the fear of her doctor’s prediction of death within a year, were not written, or played, with the sensitivity of feelings we needed to have sympathy, let alone true empathy, for these characters.

I must also say that on the night here in Queanbeyan it was not true that The Waltz has made audiences laugh and cry.  There was laughter at some of Alf’s attempts to at first avoid and later make connection with Irene, and there was respect for each character’s straight talk, as if to us directly.  But I didn’t notice people in tears.

I conclude, then, that the idea of The Waltz had great possibilities, but despite the claims for its success elsewhere, the play needs a great deal more rethinking and redevelopment before it might make people now understand the people of The Push and genuinely feel with them the loss that death will bring them – and us all.

Of course, though, it is important to note that Q The Locals is a very worthwhile program for generating new theatre by local writers and production teams, and bringing them to the general public.

And just some finer historical points.

Much of the music in the sound track was not of the kind popular with Push members, except perhaps the Beatles’ ironic Will you still love me / When I’m 64?

Also mentioned were many real names as Irene recognised Alf’s fictional painted and sketched portraits , and one famous news event:

The Bogle–Chandler case refers to the mysterious deaths of Gilbert Bogle and Margaret Chandler on the banks of the Lane Cove River in Sydney, Australia on 1 January 1963. The case became famous because of the circumstances in which the bodies were found and because the cause of death could not be established. In 2006 a filmmaker discovered evidence to suggest the cause of death was hydrogen sulphide gas. In the early hours of 1 January an eruption of gas from the polluted river bed may have occurred, causing the noxious fumes to pool in deadly quantities in the grove.

I knew Gilbert Bogle briefly from a political social event around 1960, and heard of his and Margaret’s deaths shortly before my departure from Sydney to teach in Broken Hill and begin my amateur acting and directing ‘career’ with Broken Hill Rep.  
See for details.