‘Delius’ is a fascinating and even gripping play about the famous English composer; it was written by the much-admired local playwright C. Aspden Pomfret. Aspden finds a really good story and then brings it to life with impeccable dialogue. In 2015 he gave us ‘The First Henry’ which told the story around the Battle of Hastings – the audiences loved it.
Many people may put him in the same era bracket as Mozart, but Fredrick ‘Fritz’ Delius only died after some of the KADS audience were born. Despite his Germanic name, he was one of fourteen children born to a wealthy family of Yorkshire wool merchants in Bradford.
This wonderful 2-hour production can be seen at 8.00 pm each Wednesday, Friday and Saturday until 25 May. There are Sunday matinées at 2.00 pm on the 12th and 19th May. The KADS Town Square Theatre is at 6 Central Mall, Kalamunda. Plenty of free parking is available on Barber Street and Mead Street.
The scene: 1928. The home of Fredrick ‘Fritz’ Delius and his German wife (actually born in Belgrade) Jelka in Grez, a small town in western France close to Le Mans.
The set: A comfortable sitting room in a typical working-class home. Despite financial help from his friend Sir Thomas Beecham the home is untidy and is now showing signs of wear and tear. The walls have a white dado rail, with burgundy paintwork below and pale pistachio above. There is a door on each side wall and a window with a lace curtain is central on the rear wall. A large impressive dark oak fireplace and firescreen are surrounded by dark bookcases and a brass trumpet horn phonograph. There is a small side table and dark oak dining chairs, but centre stage is a vintage wheelchair (what a find!).
The quality set was designed and constructed by Martin Dorman and Peter Bloor. The technical team were Mark Ramsey, Julie Hickling and Anita Bound; the production was stage managed by Lesley Broughton. Claire Marshall and David Gribble produced the smart programme.
Born in Scarborough, not far from Delius’ birthplace of Bradford, was a 22 yrs. old music graduate, Eric Fenby (Tennessee Buti). Eric was a massive Delius fan and being a devout Christian, he especially loved the composer’s heavenly music. Eric travelled to France to see his sick idol, but on arrival found to his horror that Fredrick Delius (Geoff Miethe) – due to his ‘condition’ being tertiary – is now blind, almost paralysed, chairbound and the ultimate whinging curmudgeon with an acerbic tongue.
As a very young man, Delius managed his family orange plantation for two years in Florida, where he learnt that all servant were slaves and so treated his housekeeper, Hanna (Sage Lockyer) and his private nurse, Hildegard (Misty Sansom / Kym Norris) angrily and with total contempt. Despite all this, his poor suffering wife, Jelka (Karin Staflund) still absolutely worshiped him.
Delius could not play an instrument, nor did he conduct any of his works, this resulted in a massive inferiority complex which he turned onto any one around him and yet Eric stayed by his side, as an unpaid amanuensis, for five years.
A post script to the play – may be a SPOILER. Delius died in 1934 within a couple of months of his good friend, Elgar. Not being religious, Delius asked to be buried in his back garden in Getz, but the local shire would not allow this, and so he was buried in the nearby churchyard.
After some time, his now very ill – also Tertiary – wife decided to dig him up and took Delius’s body to England. Sadly, at the last moment, Jelka was not well enough attend this second burial held at St Peter’s Church in Limpsfield, Surrey. Within months, Jelka too died and was buried with her dear husband.
Still a loyal fan, Fenby said “the people who really count, are those who discover new ways of making our lives more beautiful. Frederick Delius was such a man.”
The topic of a classical composer’s life sounds a bit dry and well outside of the average audience, however Delius had an incredible life. The 2012 90-minute documentary was interesting, but this play has pumped real-life into the whole production.
Aspden has taken what could have been a very highbrow topic and delivered it with dialogue and humanity that everyone could enjoy. Every single person in the audience was enthusiastic about the story and the superb acting. We all enjoy chewing gum for the mind, but every now and again we look forward to experiencing a quality piece of drama. As a well-known actor and director said to me, the productions should be ‘three for the masses and one for us’.
The acting was exceptional. Geoff managed to convince us (and I am an optometrist) that he was blind. He was feisty and an absolute unrelenting horror. Poor Karin as the ever-caring wife brought tears to one’s eyes as she was lambasted. Tennessee, as a young relative newcomer to the stage, gave a heart-rending performance as the unappreciated, dedicated Christian carer. You could feel the angst in the wife and young musician’s strife. The young carers showed their muted distain. Fabulous acting.
At the end of a long day at work I reluctantly drove 40 kms up into the Hills but am really pleased that I did not miss this production; one which I am sure will be on the Awards nomination list.
No knowledge of Delius or music is required to appreciate this play. Highly recommended.