Matilda's Waltz | La MamaLeft - Emily Goddard. Photos - Chris Gorbacz, CGI Studios

Matilda and Paterson are out of control. Issues and chores are pushed aside, left where they are to be dealt with another day. From the off milk and dirty dishes to their feelings and evidence of their sins, everything is left to fester - in the kitchen sink, at the back of their minds, under the couch, and most horrendously, on the windscreen of their car.

Matilda’s Waltz is a work that emphasises the notion that ones living environment is reflective of ones life. Eleanor Lindberg has created a house that is stifling in its disorganisation and neglect. It’s April 8th 1994 and this is where we meet Paterson (Nick Bendall) and Matilda (Emily Goddard) a grungy couple in their twenties. There’s a suffocating smell of burning incense, a tatty couch, the kitchen and the floor (if you can find them) have become rubbish heaps, and in this particular performance venue the audience must negotiate the mess in the living room on their way to their seats. Although there is the sense that the state in which Matilda and Paterson live now was not always so dire - Matilda has studied law and it seems that Paterson’s indifference to life is at least somewhat due to the recent death of his brother  - this mess is nothing compared to that which Matilda particularly, has made or is about to make of her life and of others.

Writer, Bryan Davidson Blue, has created an intriguing work which is constantly shifting its emphasis and direction, defying its audience’s expectations of who is to be trusted, who has done wrong, and the very style of the play. To begin, the biggest issue seems to be Paterson’s most recent betrayal of Matilda. This turns out to be comparatively inconsequential when Matilda reveals what she’s just done driving home in the rain. The incident itself was perhaps just an accident, but the real problem, as seems to be the case quite often in her and Paterson’s life, is that she simply didn’t stop.

This is a short work that, despite its form, doesn’t move along as well as it might in its early stages. There is a considerable portion of the play in which just Matilda and Paterson are featured yet there are few qualities, in either character, which make them likeable or even interesting. Throughout the play the performances of Bendall and Goddard come across as quite forced. There is for instance one scene early on in the play in which a substantial amount of time is devoted to Matilda and Paterson kissing. It is, one supposes, a result of the desperation Matilda must be feeling, but there is little chemistry between the two, and this physical demonstration fails to translate into a moment that is credible let alone intimate. Goddard does seem however to ease into her character a little more by the time Paterson’s band mate Rick (Giuliano Ferla) arrives, and just in time to deliver an engaging monologue at the very end of the work. There are also actions and instances, under the direction of Paul Bourke that lack credibility. Matilda’s gulping of neat gin without even a wince is one such instance.

It pays however to stick with this work. With the arrival of Paterson and Matilda’s visitors the play not only becomes lively and comedic but the play itself is turned on its head. Firstly Rick arrives, in a jovial drunken state, looking for a bit of fun. However, Matilda has just revealed her secret to Paterson and with the obvious strain between the two, even Rick can tell that something is very wrong. Rick is an instantly likeable character and Ferla plays this physical, almost slapstick role, with great gusto. He also works particularly well with Goddard and the two share some nice scenes.

It is when the character of Mrs Freeman (Francesca Waters) breezes in uninvited that the play turns from dark naturalism into a realm which is certainly bazaar and which may or may not be a figment of the characters’ imagination and subconsciousness. Davidson Blue and Goddard have actually named their theatre collective Mrs Freeman’s Dry Cleaning and it is in this play that they have brought this character to life. Waters plays her convincingly, a fifty to sixty something year old woman who is immaculate in her presentation and horrified at the thought of foods that may have passed their use by date. Her answer to the trio’s domestic and personal chaos is a sparkling new vacuum cleaner that she promotes with saleswoman-like enthusiasm. Armed with her vacuum cleaner, tips to remove stains, and freshly brewed tea, she does more than simply wash their dirty laundry; she holds it up for all to see.

Mrs Freeman’s influence is indeed the catalyst for getting Matilda to a point where she will acknowledge her deadly mistake, but in getting their house back in order, she is also there to get Matilda, and perhaps Paterson, “back in control of the vehicle.” The final motivation for getting their lives back on track however seems not to come from the older, wiser Mrs Freeman, but rather in the form of the king of grunge, Kurt Cobain. Davidson Blue has chosen this specific day in history to set the play because it is the day that Cobain was found dead, having taken his own life. If this “vehicle” to which Mrs Freeman refers is Matilda’s body, this day is certainly significant. On this day, the result of continuing out of control has perhaps rarely reached so broadly nor been felt so profoundly amongst young people.

Matilda’s Waltz is a play that takes you by surprise on more than a few occasions and though it is far from polished, it’s certainly worthy of further development.

La Mama
Matilda's Waltz
by Bryan Davidson Blue

Directed by Paul Bourke

Venue: La Mama, 205 Faraday Street, Carlton
Dates: August 5 - August 23, 2009
Times: Weds and Suns at 6.30pm, Thurs to Sats at 8.00pm
Duration: 65 minutes approx.
Tickets: $25 / $12 (conc.)

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