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Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 26, No. 9. 1963.

Drama Critics Were Prudes

Drama Critics Were Prudes

I was misled by the publicity about Lysistrata. I had read letters and criticisms in the local newspapers before I went to see it, and I was led to believe that it was "beyond the bounds of decency."

There was plenty of sex in it, but no more than in many other plays, particularly those which have been written and acclaimed quite recently. It was not as if bawdy jokes were interpolated into an otherwise complete script. They were used, cleverly, to create a mood of sexual frustration, a mood in which the men would agree to anything, including peace.

But the self-appointed arbiters of the public taste did not see it that way. As soon as the critics first-night notices appeared there were tribes of censor-perverts crowding in to seek sexual gratification of a most insidious form. The fact that they obviously found what they were looking for does not imply that the play was obscene. The prurient prude has always been able to find obscenity wherever he looked, provided he looked hard enough, and this case is no exception.

Public reaction is partly a reflection of the dearth of drama, and the lack of sophistication in theatre-going people in Wellington. Had this play been performed elsewhere, say in London, it is unlikely that criticism would have ignored the artistic merits focussed entirely on the sexuality it included. This is because in London a much wider range of drama (continuously on stage) does not encourage people to pick out one play and attack it for its lack of Puritanism. It is unlikely that the public there would have behaved like a schoolgirl who had just read her first un-bowdlerised edition of Shakespeare.

It should not be necessary to point out that no one is asking anyone to take their wives, or their daughters, or even themselves to this play if they were offended by a frank and open treatment of sex.

But you cannot keep a prude away from "indecency" because if you did he would have nothing to be shocked about; so you will always have critics of Lysistratas as long as you have prudes. The best that can be done is to treat them with the scorn they deserve.—D.P.W.