The quest for home and security is a recurrent theme and in Delphiniums we have the story of Queenie and Ed Burton, two pensioners slowly ground deeper into poverty and powerlessness by their lack of secure housing. From the beginning of the play we see Queenie and Ed as humble people who want nothing more than to live in peace and be good neighbours. They are simple, elderly people with few demands other than Queenie's absolute need to make a garden. She is a naturally nervous woman who relies upon the kindness of others to make her feel good about herself. Her nervousness is highlighted and increased by the monosyllabic Mrs Corby, their new landlady - a scowling, bitter woman who seems to dislike seeing other people happy....The gradual transformation of Queenie, from a naturally kind and open woman to someone who is capable of relishing any misfortune that befalls Mrs Corby, and the subtle shift of dependency between Queenie and Ed that occurs because of this, highlights the delicacy with which Shepherd draws her characters. (Kerry Kilner, 'Introduction', Playing the Past: Three Plays by Australian Women (1995): vii-viii).
Always forced to move, the Burtons try to make 'home' wherever they are. Mrs Corby finally forces them to move again. In her disappointment, Queenie smashes the delphiniums she has grown-"She was cruel to me-but I shouldn't have done it-they was so beautiful-When I came here I was a good woman-I should have left her to Gawd." (The Campbell Howard Annotated Index of Australian Plays 1920-1955 (1993) edited by Jack Bedson and Julian Croft (1993):339)
GLADDIE (MRS HARPER)
Set on a stretch of rocky beach on an island off the north-west coast of Australia this one-act has two characters.
Mrs Boake, alone on an island lighthouse, recalls the death of her daughters as an Act of God. In the maudlin, sentimental simplicity of a mentally low old lady, she sings 'Abide With Me' as she reminisces. Her husband is gone to the mainland with two small pearls they have found. Parkson, a criminal, comes to frighten her into disclosing where the hoard is hidden, having heard of the pearls before Boake, inebriated, is knocked down and killed on the mainland. Her simplicity is her strength and Parkson cannot pierce her armour. She steadfastly holds to her assertion that there are no other pearls. She is shocked when he tells her of her husband's death, but refuses to leave the island with him and as he rows away she is heard singing 'Abide With Me'.
Abstract adapted fromThe Campbell Howard Annotated Index of Australian Plays 1920-1955.