Victoria University College. Extravaganza. May 18th and 19th, 1945.
Peter in Blunderland — An Introduction to the Palmerston North Edition
Peter in Blunderland
An Introduction to the Palmerston North Edition
The people of Wellington are by now quite accustomed to Victoria College Extravaganzas. They flock along every year in their thousands. Some come because they want a good laugh, some because they like the salacious bits, and some because they like hearing us say things about the Highest In The Land which they don't care to say themselves.
Yes, they've got used to us in Wellington, and there's no need to write an apologia such as this in our programmes. The people know what to expect, and they seem to like it. But I think it's only fair to warn you people of Palmerston North that the art-form we're inflicting upon you to-night is very, very different from the comfortable dramas presented to you by your local dramatic societies. So if you decide, after reading what follows, that you'd prefer not to see the show, you may leave the theatre and enquire at the Box Office for your price of admission. We're pretty certain that it won't be refunded.
"Peter in Blunderland," as you have been informed by our excellent publicity service, deals with the adventures of one Peter, who, like dear little Alice, goes through a looking-glass in search of a New World. In his travels he meets a number of interesting and vaguely familiar characters—for instance, the Harsh Hare, the Kidderminster Cat, the Dock Turtle, the Gryphon, Tweedlesid and Tweedlelee, the Duchess of Marlborough, and last—but assuredly not least—that incredible animal Gas Mainsford, Mare of Farmerston.
In the Wellington performance of "Peter," Gas Mainsford didn't appear. Her place was taken by an oddity called Holy Willie Appletree, and this change may, to the more discerning Palmerstonians, give a clue to the inner nature and significance of the Extravaganza. "Peter," like all our Extravaganzas, is essentially local and ephemoral. It is as up-to-date as the morning paper (in the morning), as adaptable as female fashions, and as devastating and impartial as a bomb. Its authors must possess the qualifications of a Swift, an Aristophanes, and a Rabelais rolled into one, and it is essential that they and the caste wear libel-proof vests.
From all of which you may or may not gather some of the essentials of the Extravaganza. Trying to describe the basic qualities of an Extravaganza is like trying to ascertain the essentials of a great poem—you run through a list of ingredients and find on examination that there isn't one which can't on occasion be dispensed with. You can call an Extravaganza a "lewd political farce," or a "libellous piece of pornography," or a "musical satire," but you can never capture the quintessence of the Extravaganza in bald words, however apt. As a celebrated Dodo once said (in another connection): "The best way to explain it is to do it."
And in doing it, we have a lot of fun. And you won't understand properly what an Extravaganza is unless you realise that the caste is having fun as well as the audience. It has been fun bribing fifth-columnists in your city to supply us with dope about your celebrities and controversies so that we can incorporate them in our show. It has been fun preparing and rehearsing this special Palmerston North edition of "Peter." It will be fun watching your reactions to the riot of bawdry, brilliance and Bolshevism which is "Peter in Blunderland."
We don't expect that you'll take much notice of the political moral which lurks in the background of the show. For many years now I have been writing Extravaganzas which subtly advocate various systems and creeds, ranging from Oxford Groupism to Communism, but as I have noticed no radical changes in the Ways of the World recently, I can only assume that the swine have merely sniffed at my pearls. The trouble is that people won't go to see a political drama unless you wrap it up in silver paper. It's a sad and depressing fact, but no one ever takes Extravaganzas seriously. People invariably laugh like hell. Perhaps Palmerstonians will be more intelligent.
There are one or two things we'd like to apologise for. In the first place, most of you won't have seen the Wellington Repertory Society's production of "Alice in Wonderland" which gave us a few ideas for "Peter"; nor will many of you have seen the Canterbury College production of "Hamlet" in modern dress, which we endeavour to reproduce in Act II of "Peter." We don't think this really matters, though: a nodding acquaintance with the original works is all that is required for a full appreciation of the finer points of "Peter." And perhaps your not having seen "Alice" and "Hamlet" is really an advantage. There are one or two shocking bad lines in "Peter"—and if you don't see anything funny in them, you may be prepared to blame it on your own obtuseness, rather than on the incompetence of the authors.
Secondly, we want to apologise for retaining the Karori Crematorium as the locale of the Marx Brothers Scene. The reason for this apparent parochialism is, of course, the fact that you haven't got a crematorium at Palmerston North. It's time your Civic Centre Association repaired this grave omission.
So we invite you to forget Tojo, the unpaid bills, and the fly menace, just for a couple of hours, and partake of the raw, red meat of "Peter in Blunderland." It may give you indigestion, but it tastes good while you're eating it.
Ronald L. Meek.