Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 13, No. 5. March 30, 1950
What attitude are we to take to Shakespearian productions in New Zealand? Should we criticise or condone? Are we to accept them merely because the performance or Shakespeare is often presumed to be above criticism, or should we view them simply as plays whose entertainment value may be compared with that of any other play? Too many people, I feel, lacking a standard by which to judge these productions accept what they see to be good instead of exercising any critical faculty. Also, we appear to have a tradition of Shakespearian acting, handed on, no doubt, by those who fetishly admired this type of performance, so commonly seen at the beginning of the 20th century. A grandiose type of acting, with large gestures, and oratorical dialogue where the sound means more than the sense.
Mrs. Evison's production of Coriolanus was well planned. The staging was interesting. The scenery could have been better except in the last scene with its waving banners. For the acting, throughout a large part of the play the orator took over from the actor. The scenes at the end of the last two acts impressed one as being sincere and impassioned. Here we had people simply speaking to one another as individuals and net as if they were addressing a public meeting. Maureen Ross-Smith's pleading with Coriolanus was very effective. The rhythm and the pauses in her delivery gave a dramatic tenseness only to be equalled in the last scene of the play where Klaus Neuberg as Aufidius watches Coriolanus falter and die. In these scenes we saw acting, in the others, mainly action.
Paul Treadwell, as Coriolanus, was not positive enough in his portrayal of a young leader, torn by the conflict of conscience and family pride. To my mind, the generals, Cominius and Aufidius, were more dominant and convincing, overshadowing Coriolanus in depth of characterisation. It is on the character of Coriolanus that the whole plot rests, and, if we are not made aware of his psychological struggle, the rest of the play is comparatively meaningless.
The crowd scenes were well organised in the matter of group spirit and reaction. It is interesting to note Mrs. Evison's idea of tableau grouping—i.e. having a well designed picture on the stage for each moment of the play—but this, at times, did appear to lead to theatrical gymnastics when each player endeavoured to find his correct placing.
I do not think it is a wise policy to present plays for public performances where the acting of the minor characters is at such disparity with that of the principals. The tribunes, the soldiers and the crowds, though well-disciplined, did not have the necessary ability to carry the play in their scenes. In order to put a bold face on for the paying public it would perhaps be better to present plays with a 'small able cast than those with a large cast who, while gaining stage experience, nevertheless detract by their lack of technique from the dramatic whole.
I do not wish to be unduly critical as I can appreciate the vast amount of work that must have gone into the preparation of this production and credit Is due to the producer and the cast. But I think the old maxim of "making haste slowly" might well be applied to the Victoria College Drama Club!