Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 28, No. 3. 1965.
Ashenden and Morality
Ashenden and Morality
Angels hymned in the towers of heaven, God's voice rolled down and boomed across the land, a sinner lifted his face to the sky and his eyes were filled with the pure light of repentance. Had Cecil B. de Mille cut loose on the stage of the Memorial Theatre? No. It was Paul Maunder and his production of "'Everyman," the mediaeval morality play.
"Everyman," a play from a different age and society, is a difficult play to put across today. One of the qualities which has contributed to its survival is its simplicity and the absence in it of "lofty spiritualism" in the decadent sense. It is a morality play, firmly centred on everyday life. It is not the primary intention of the play to turn the audience's attention to the world beyond.
The intention of the play is to turn the audience's mind to ordinary mundane actions and make them see these actions in a new light. The reckoning before God is important only in as much as it is a spur to better behaviour in this world. The "spiritual" face of the play is subordinate to the "worldly." Niceties of religious abstraction would have been lost upon the unsophisticated audiences for which it was originally intended.
The weakness of Paul Maunder's production was his determination to get as much religion out of it as possible; hence the choiring angels and the portrayal of Everyman's anguish when confronted by Death and God.
Everyman's feverish, sometimes extravagant anguish was really irrelevant to the central intention of the play. This is not to say that Tony Ashenden's interpretation of the role was not absorbing in itself, but it tended to distract from the morality message of the play and thus damaged the unity and drive of. the production. The role of Everyman is not a personality study.
For the most part, the lines were well spoken and made sense. A notable exception was God, who was not far short of unintelligible. One feels that Kuki Kaa would have done better to speak his lines from the front centre of the stage, as would probably have been done in mediaeval performances.
In all, it was a gallant attempt at a play which poses many more subtle difficulties fundamental to the production than does "Salome," which was the second play of the double bill.
Star funnyman Murray Gronwall donated a finely-balanced portrayal of Herod: he was ridiculous yet never for a moment did one forget that Herod was a king. He once again displayed his amazing powers of improvising at the crucial moment of a temporary mental blackout.
Kristin Strickland was a suitably voluptuous and beautiful Salome. Hers was a fine performance in every way—but a special warm word for her snaky, sexy dance. It was unfortunate that the enthralled hush which followed it was broken by the thunderous click of the music being turned off.
Josephine Knight as Herodias posed a well-judged queenliness, not snooty, but regal. Jack Richards as Jocanaan gave off an impression of powerful eccentricity exactly suitable for a prophet. In fact, this play was a marvel of good casting.
A sharply contrasting set in black and white blended in well with the contrasts of movement and stillness in the action. It was a good production of a play of indifferent merit.—G.Q.