Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 10, No. 12. August 20, 1947
The Infernal Machine
The Infernal Machine
On the opening night of the Dramatic Club's major production, things were only middling. Thunder and heavy rain combined with the poor acoustics of the Technical College Hall to make hearing mote difficult. The players themselves—lacking perhaps, the inspiration of a large and comfortably warm audience—-did not help matters much in this respect. At times, the dialogue was inaudible; at others it was incomprehensible. But there were compensations.
Jean Cocteau's "Infernal Machine" contains the recommended ingredients for a successful play—royalty, sex, death and the gods—and the Dramatic Club cooked up a satisfying dish. The rich dignity of the sets and the voluptuous splendour of the costumes were an admirable setting for this story of a vain, self-indulgent queen and a passionate, ambitious young man, cursed by the gods to murder his father and marry his mother. In spite of their frantic efforts to escape they are carried along to an inexorable physical and spiritual destruction. No doubt. there are a few points of unsophisticated technique, as in all ancient and most modern drama; for instance, the supposition that in seventeen years Oedipus had never inquired into the death of his predecessor on the throne. But such flaws are external, not essential. The technical effects were surprisingly convincing, particularly the appearance, out of a blank stone wall, of the Phantom of Laius, fruitlessly striving to warn his widow Jocasta Of the approach of doom. But would it have been any more difficult to make his aura a circle instead of a rectangle?
As a spectacle alone, Sam Williams' interpretation of the Theban scene was well worth seeing. Sympathetic lighting and the original background music of Douglas Lilburn provided all that could be desired in assisting the audience to a full appreciation or its artistry. However, it is, doubtful if the vehicle or the cast were worthy of the total effort involved.
From an unpromising and rather obscure beginning, the play gradually took hold of the audience, compelling their attention through four acts to a finely staged climax. Where plot interest is as strong as it is in "The Infernal Machine," character interest is apt to be comparatively weak. Yet every character was interesting and distinct. This is not to say that all the roles were adequately portrayed. Some of the minor characters lacked the finesse which was necessary to provide full support to the principles. From this it appears reasonable to assume that the cast of "The Infernal Machine" does not represent the cream of VUC's dramatic talent.
The regal voice and personality of Frances Mulrennan made her outstanding as Jocasta, a part which might have been made for her. Dorian Saker's lines were always heard, and in the fourth act he approached excellence as a tragedian. As the sphinx, Edith Campion did not appear particularly in character, but her part called for movements which might have appeared awkward in another. She has a natural grace and ease of gesture which were a definite asset. Paul Treadwell was consistently competent as Tiresias, the bearded sage; and Pix Hurrell filled the roles of the dog-headed Anubis and the greying Creon with his usual assurance, though his assumed voice tended to grate a little. Chief scene stealers were Sebastian Page (whence did he conjure up that orange?), and George Webby's superb characterisation of the Phantom.