THE THING IN THE WHEELCHAIR
The Thing In The Wheelchair was premiered at Shaffer's home theatre The Karnak Playhouse, North Queensland, Australia on 18th May 2001. Other dates at the same venue include 19th, 20th, 25th, 26th, and 27th May. These performances were directed by Diane Cilento. Cast included Rory Williamson, Kathryn Dunn, Buzz Whiting, Emma Jackson, Howard Turner and Russell Wicks.
Shaffer: "It's a rather cold-hearted melodrama, written in the style of Patrick Hamilton, who wrote Gaslight. It's called The Thing in the Wheelchair. That gives you an idea of how cold-hearted it is."
News of Shaffer's play was noted as far back as 1997 when Playbill ran a report that The Thing In The Wheelchair might be heading for the West End. Their August 1997 issue states: "According to Variety, his newest play, The Thing In The Wheelchair, is prepping for a West End opening in early spring 1998, with rehearsals beginning in November 1997. Nicholas Roeg, an auteur film director (The Man Who Fell To Earth) will make his stage debut with the piece, which is -- yes -- a thriller. Or, as Shaffer prefers it to be called, "a shocker -- thriller sounds so declasse."
He told Variety the show would be a descendent of films like Gaslight and Double Indemnity. "It is so politically incorrect, so foul, so against the natural impulse," said Shaffer of the work. "A complete pathological bitch tortures an old woman in a wheelchair who is completely paralyzed except for her eyes. The audience are going to loathe that younger woman, and it's about time." Asked by Variety why people would want to see this, Shaffer replied, "Outrage. There's nothing like abusing an audience, right?"
Shaffer had hopes of casting Helen Mirren in the play. Mirren, who became a household name through the TV series Prime Suspect was described by Shaffer as "One of the few people who is not only sexy but has a very, very strong cutting edge."
In My Nine Lives, by Diane Cilento, she recalls: "An old woman, who is completely paralysed except for the ability to blink her eyes, overhears her daughter-in-law planning the murder of her son with her lover. How can she avert his death? And if she cannot, how can she bring the murderers to justice? The daughter-in-law is an amateur actress who is playing Lady Macbeth when the murder plot is hatched. Her lover and co-conspirator is a bowser attendant at the local filling station, who she has got into the theatre to play the Second Murderer. The play is set in the sixties with the subtitle The Lady Macbeth of the Suburbs."
She adds that Tony and Peter Shaffer came up with a new twist to the plot. Also, they made the husband and his mother Gilbert And Sullivan fanatics. Diane herself wrote the front story for the play, incorporating the accident that paralysed the old mum. She also gives credit to Buzz Whiting: "Buzz Whiting, an actress from the Rondo Theatre in Cairns played the paralysed old woman. She could remain utterly still while being picked up, scrubbed down, and shaken about. “Buzz was a director’s dream. She sailed through the play, brining such quality and sympathy to the role that she quickly became the darling of the entire cast”
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