A journalist from the 1960s and ’70s, Helen’s death came in 2016.
In the year leading up to her passing, she would often sit on a bench in Bondi overlooking the sea and share her thoughts on life and death with her son-in-law, David Cole, a teacher and scriptwriter from Goulburn.
He wasn’t thinking about writing a play at the time, but two years later, one came to him.
“It is based on my journey with her, and her knowing she had terminal lung cancer with about a year to live and how she was dealing with that and still trying to find the upside of things, and live life to the fullest,” he said.
“She was a bit of a character, a real fighter.”
The Waltz tells the story of a pair of ageing radicals (played by Goulburn actors Pauline Mullen and Martin Sanders) who refuse to let society – or anybody else – dictate how they’re going to spend their final days here on Earth.
The Waltz will play at Braidwood National Theatre at 4 pm on Sunday, 27 March, after being well received in Goulburn. Initially planned for a brief tour, it was performed three times at the Goulburn Club over one weekend. Among the audience was Jock McClean, a former drama teacher and theatre enthusiast, who loved it. He has worked previously with Mullen and Sanders and thought their performances were wonderful.
He said Cole had created two very believable, rather way-out characters. The language was quite ripe in places, but that goes with the two characters.
“Pauline’s character (Irene) is a sweet, older baby boomer hippy who is part of the Sydney Push of the 1960s and ’70s that flourished with free-spirited free love, Marijuana-smoking, drinking and lots of sex,” he said.
“She plays this older lady with a great deal of wonderful, rosy-coloured nostalgia about what her life was like and she doesn’t regret anything she has done,” he said.
“Martin’s character (Alf) is a much shier person, very reserved. He is an artist who likes to go out to the heads at Bondi and sketch, and that’s where they meet. He becomes fascinated by this woman, falls very deeply in love with her,” he said.
A baby boomer who lived through the late 1960s in Britain, Jock said the performance showed plenty of authenticity, verve, vitality, a lot of humour and flowed beautifully for 90 minutes.
Cole stood on a balcony above the Goulburn Club’s courtyard watching the faces of people below during a sold-out performance of The Waltz.
“I’ve seen the play 12 times, so I’m more interested in how people are responding and how they were all engaged. You know when people are not engaged, they’re shifting in their seats or whatever. No, they were all focussed, laughing and I thought, wow, they are really into this play.”
He was surprised at times too.
“You think you have got a great joke, and some might laugh, but they’ll laugh when you don’t expect it,” he said.
“A few people came up after the play to say, ‘oh, I lost a partner recently, your play beautifully dealt with that passing of someone’,” he said.
The five plays he has written have all been performed, three of them at Goulburn’s Lieder Theatre, one with the Canberra Street Theatre and The Waltz, his most successful, is playing at Crookwell.
The Waltz director David Letch is well known in the Australian film and theatre industry, with decades worth of credits to his name. He most recently directed a production of A Tree Falling by award-winning playwright Ron Elisha. He has also collaborated with Oscar-nominated screenwriter Jonathan Hardy and worked on the groundbreaking Australian TV shows Division 4 and Homicide.
“The Waltz never lets you down,” Letch said. “It’s chewy, visceral, has meat on the bones, has guts, and most of all, it’s really funny while also being heart-wrenching.”
The Waltz will play at Braidwood National Theatre at 4 pm on Sunday, 27 March. To book, visit Try Booking.