Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 24, No. 13. 1961.
The Offshore Island
The Offshore Island
"I felt it was my duty to put this play on," said the producer of "The Offshore Island," Margaret Walker, on a Women's Hour programme the day after I saw this latest production of the Wellington Teachers' College Drama Club. And I believe it is the duty of every student to either see this play performed or to read it.
The author is Marghanita Laski, a well-known English writer who has written four novels: "Tory Heaven," "The Victorian Chaise-longue," "The Village," several essays and reviews. Her most popular novel, "Little Boy Lost," was recently made into a film.
The theme roughly is this: After a nuclear war between Russia and America a few pockets of the human race are struggling for survival in Europe. A middle-aged woman in a western England farmhouse is tring to bring up her 16-vear-old boy and 18-year-old girl, the only reason for their prolonged (seven years) fight for life resting on the off-chance of their being "saved" by any other survivors of the holocaust. The suspense builds up in the first act when we see them arguing over misuse of their four, and only four, knives, the boy carving up a bicycle tube for sandal soles, the discussion on contaminated blackberries and the dramatic pause when the mother unthinkingly tells her son that to use live bait when trout-fishing is unsporting. "We're the ones that need a sporting chance," says Martin, played by Patrick Craddock.
Eventually, representatives of both America and Russia arrive in turn and attempt to persuade the family to return with them to "civilisation." Being "C.P.'s" though (Contaminated Persons), they would all be rendered sterile and placed in "reservations." (Complete with Television!!)
Here, however, the two most significant points emerge: firstly, that these people's only wish is to be left alone, to which the American Army captain replies that they must necessarily be on one side or the other. "If you are our friends, our enemies are yours," and later: "It's you peacemongers that are the real trouble; you're the real enemy." Secondly, that though the war was between Russia and America, neither of those powers were bombed with nuclear weapons. The rest of the world, of course, was annihilated. This, unfortunately is only too possible and New Zealand (please excuse the politics), committed through Seato to support a major Nuclear Power, would certainly qualify for destruction—along with all the other small countries—the ones that "don't count."
Quoting the American captain again: "Military considerations are more important than friends." A more topical example is the crisis developing over Berlin now; Russia might conceivably bomb West Germany and Nato forces East Germany, without directly attacking each other. But that's the way it crumbles, cobalt wise.
The finest performance of the evening was undoubtedly Janet Saul's mature and very moving portrayal of Rachael Verney, the fortyish woman whose only faith lies with her family. The final dramatic and difficult sequence was handled with exceptional skill.
The disillusioned but practical Welsh fisherman, Martin, who arranges the mating of his son with Rachael's daughter ("There has got to be some of us to carry on") is played by Patrick Craddock, who after a shaky beginning finished well.
Graeme West and Patricia Thompson, playing the children, made the best of difficult roles, while John Omundsen as the cynical Sergeant Bayford ("If you ask me they're just a bunch of atheistical neutrals") was the best of the supporting characters.
Peter Vere-Jones plays Captain Charles, the leader of the Army squad torn between his sense of duty and his basic humanitarian-ism but who turns out quite a commonplace, everyday ugly American. For his interpretation of this conflict of principles, I would place Peter Vere-Jones as the best of the male cast, though at times the script let him down. Reminiscent of "Dragnet' were the lines "It is now 0745 hours—at 0800 this place will be destroyed." Dum da Dum Dum!
The only fault with the production was an inconsistency with the use of makeup, in particular the negro soldier with black face and white arms, and some poor lighting effects. For instance, Scene 2, Act II, was meant to be evening and Act III morning; yet there were no noticeable lighting changes.
In spite of these minor faults the play was definitely a success. Not since "Hiroshima Mon Amour" have I left a show with that slightly sick feeling in my stomach, walking dumbly to the door and finding myself lost for words for several minutes. What little faith I previously possessed in mankind is now certainly negated. I think "The Offshore island" achieved its purpose.