A Country Town in New South Wales
Scene 1 At The Pictures – 1954
It is Saturday night in a country town in New South Wales, Australia in 1954. People are arriving at the Coronation Hall for the screening of an American B-Grade film called Nearly Beloved. The hall, like those found in every town, has a small stage at one end. It is used by the township for a variety of gatherings but tonight it has become ‘the pictures’ and the social highlight of the week. Just as the lights dim before the projectionist begins the screening, a pair of young courting lovers arrive and take their seats in the back row. At the end of the film, as boy gets girl on-screen, the young man presents his girl with an engagement ring. Everyone is thrilled.
Scene 2 The Night Before the Wedding – 1955
A year has passed. A suitable length of time for a respectable engagement. The couple celebrate separately on the eve of their wedding in typical Australian style. As is the tradition, the female friends of the bride-to-be provide a surprise ‘shower’ or ‘kitchen tea’ where small, practical gifts for the bathroom or kitchen are given. Meanwhile, the men celebrate the groom-to-be’s final days as a bachelor with a traditional Aussie ‘bucks’ party, centred around the drinking of a keg of beer. Inevitably, the all-male party is interrupted by the arrival of an alluring local beauty. The groom starts to feel trapped by the whole ritual. Confusion and doubt about the impending marriage overtake him and ultimately cause him to flee.
An Inner City Apartment in Sydney – 1986
Through the window of an elegant apartment shine the lights of Sydney Harbour. Into the apartment, with all its chic accoutrements of success, walks our hero from Act 1, now a businessman, some twenty-one years older. He is suavely greying and married to someone quite different from the fiancee of the country town he left all those years before. This husband and wife have settled into a bored and loveless marriage where there is interaction but never real communication..
Left alone in the living room, he switches on the television. Onto the screen comes the comforting and familiar face of Australian film-expert Bill Collins to introduce, in his inimitable style, his weekly screening of a movie classic. Tonight, Bill’s movie is Nearly Beloved! Our hero’s thoughts race back to the night of his first engagement at the Coronation Hall in 1954. The movie’s sounds and images engulf him as he drifts into a sleep-like state. Faces sweep across his memory like giant ghosts. He awakes, haunted with regret for what might have been. Memories drive him back to the past, perhaps to try to recover love lost.
The Country Town Revisited
The curtain rises on the now decaying Coronation Hall and a group of ghostly wedding guests. It is as though time has stood still since the day of the wedding in 1955 -a wedding that never took place. The tables are set for a party but the food is covered in cob-webs, streamers droop forlornly and wallpaper hangs in disrepair. But the guests are somehow alive with anticipation as though caught in a groove, reliving over and over the events of that day. Touched by a mist of ghostly cobwebs, this gathering of old friends waits for the bride and groom to arrive. The bride arrives but the mood is shattered by her inexplicable sadness.
The ghosts freeze. The groom arrives, but some twenty-one years late. The guests come to life around him and there follows a sad enactment of the happiness that might have been. The ghosts fade, leaving him alone in the Coronation Hall…