WALL FLOWERING in the Everyman Studio, Cheltenham

WallfloweringLife can be a very sad business. We all have dreams and aspirations and those of us who manage to fulfil even the smallest parts of them are the lucky ones, most of us having to make do with the realities of life.

The simple truth that twenty-somethings don’t realise is that basically you feel the same at fifty as you did at fifteen. The only difference, apart from the wrinkles and grey hairs, is the direction in which you are looking – forwards at fifteen, backwards at fifty. Everybody wants to be somebody, a figure of authority or a celebrity and most of us, at some point, think we will be. We are all special to ourselves – and perhaps to our mothers.

So, how do you cope when reality becomes real, how do you face up to the boring and mundane when you once imagined yourself as someone whom others would admire and look up to? The answer is that you create your own little world where you make the rules and you set the agenda. You find a hobby, an interest, a way of passing the time without having to take too close a look at the featureless desert of your life as it really is. Your existence becomes a compromise, a making do, a better than nothing. But is that the best way of coping with things?

In Peta Murray’s thought provoking and moving bitter-sweet play Wallflowering, Clifton and Margaret (Peggy) are Small by name and small by nature. He is a self-delusional, narrow minded, pompous bore and the only authority he wealds is over his long-suffering wife. He is not bitter because he still harbours hopes of self deception. He has a trophy cabinet full of cups and awards that he has bought, not won. His appearance as Julius Caesar, while dressing poor Peg as a carrot at a fancy-dress party sums up their relationship and demonstrates that self delusion never dies.

In the end, after an abortive attempt at socialising, they have to accept that all they have is each other. Until that point he has pretended everything, behind his barricade, was fine while she has accepted her lot (through fear or contentment?), resisting attempts from her “friends” to prise her out from her domestic doldrums and broaden her horizons – mainly, it seems, through fifty shades of sex.

The couple take their solace in ballroom dancing and find security in its discipline. They find comfort in the glimpse of perceived glamour that it affords and in the reflections of a spinning mirror ball.

They finally realise that what they have is a lot better than nothing, that they have their strength and raison d’être in each other. They eventually appreciate that together their ballroom dancing can, if they allow it to, broaden their horizons not diminish them; that it can become their shiny-shoed road to salvation.

Chris Garner and Susie Donkin of the Stroud Theatre Company are both excellent as the painfully ordinary suburban couple and the simplicity of the production does nothing to detract from the powerful, often funny, but always painfully true, facts that it lays bare. Highly recommended.  ★★★★★   Michael Hasted