Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 28, No. 3. 1965.
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.
Packer Poetry Peevish
Prince Of The Plague Country, by Richard Packer. Pegasus Press 1964. 58 p.p, 15/-. Reviewed by Alastair Bisley.
His publishers claim for Mr. Packer that though he is "deeply concerned with the terrifying plight of the isolated individual in a collapsed culture, forced to confront a world which denies every human affirmation," his verse progresses "towards Catharsist and Gnostic concepts of self-transcendence." The achievement is somewhat less impressive.
Frequently his indignation is unobjective, substantiated only by vague discontents and disturbances, or by the hopeful recitation of the names of ancient heroes. Legend may be used to enforce or embody a legitimate disgust; it will not add consequence to an obscure grievance, however, and when we read in "Prelude" of a trumpet urging women to dance "for dead Orpheus, whose gay they dripped for sandwiches on desks, and whose sweet blood they'd thieved to guzzle from thermos flasks inside air-conditioned crypts"
we can only grieve that such assiduous mythology should have been put at the service of so much peevishness.
The poet is also often guilty of appalling gaucheness: little of Nefer's vanished beauty remains in her "applauded knees"; and lines like "even boozed they're narrow" (from "Long before Nightfall"), besides displaying an interesting attitude to drunkenness, achieve adolescent awkwardness, not a recklessly brutal diction.
There is a considerable sameness in Mr. Packer's all-embracing Indictment; but if his charges do not often vary, his morality frequently does. It is difficult to reconcile the implied praise of Praniteles "who sought a whore's embrace" and the young man's new found freedom in "Someone Special" ("beer and sundry misses restored him suddenly to the drunkenness of being free") with the disillusionment with lechery of "Through Dark Glasses" or "On The Seashore." Mr. Packer has mixed a large dose of wine and roses with a quantity of vanitas vanitatem, and seems fiercely determined to get the worst of both worlds.
Of the few poems which map a positive vision "Sestina" is wordy and diffuse, and "Lament for Elinor Wylie," while it contains more memorable lines, is scarcely powerful enough to weigh against the floods of pessimism. Probably the most considerable fusing of the attitudes of hope and despair is however "The Night after Wormwood." which incorporates most of what is said elsewhere in the book. Yet even this is not entirely successful. At the beginning of the poem the dramatic form is forceful, the cosmic disaster, described in Mr. Packer's more vigorous verse, must be urgently examined and guilt apportioned; but the dialogue becomes turgid and Everyman's recognition of his implication too pat.
With Everyman's cry of "Give me your name!
Answer, you whose presence blurs these phalluses of grizzled lime ..."
tension sags into interminable apostrophe: and the short lines "I see no crime is greater than choosing not to choose" are neither particularly forceful or particularly original. The self-indictment dissipates itself in vague and stereotyped images of violence.
Altogether, though Mr. Packer has occasionally caught the striking phrase, his observation is too often incorrect his pessimism too often wilful and his repetition too often boring. It is difficult not to hope that he will in future find some new attitude to strike.
Going the Rounds of Discs
The record collector who delights in tormenting his speakers and listeners with extremes in recorded sound should and Decca's Phase Four Stereo series very useful. Using multiple microphone technique, these discs are not only engineered for maximum depth and directionality but the music la often arranged directly to show off the new medium.
The most effective, sonically, is Eric Rogers Victory In Review (PFSM 34/24) which starts with an atomic explosion and then simulates a victory parade across the room. His companion disc The Sizzling Twenties (PFSM 34003) alone with Roland Shaw's Mexico! (PPSM 310271 and Ted Heath's Big Band Percussion (PFSM 34004) show a change from movement to space. The orchestrations are designed to provide maximum contrast between instrumental tone colours and the physical location of the instruments. At worst, this leads to a succession of tinkles, bongs and bumps but at its best to a complete illusion of presence.
With the application of PFS techniques to orthodox concert hall sounds the engineers face a stiffer test. Not only does the dynamic range of the performance become wider but interpretation becomes a competitive factor— there is more chance of the technical achievement being spoiled by artistic shortcomings (to put the cart before the horse for a change.)
The first classical disc I have heard in Phase Four is Tchaikovsky's 1812 and Nutcracker Suite played by the London Festival Orchestra (et al.) under Robert Sharpies (PFSM 34044). The suite is straightforward and competently executed but Sharpies takes a somewhat cautious view of the 1812 (odd that one should call for more abandon in this of all works), but wow, that final chaos! The bells are big, deep and solemn and the cannons reverberate all over the show. The band of the Grenadier Guards is there somewhere, I couldn't hear them directly, but suppose they were adding more weight and brilliance to the ensemble. What a glorious mess this music is (good old Tehaik), and what a glorious recording it gets here.
Following his brilliant Mahler Third (CBS S2BR 460002) the Bernstein version or the Fourth symphony (CBS SBR 475068) repeats the success of its predecessor. I actually prefer the fourth to the third, as music, perhaps simply because it is shorter, for, (to lay my bias on the table) I do not think that Mahler is the greatest.
Having said that let me add that this version of the Fourth is terrific. It rubbishes the van Beinum and Kletzki versions and fits Bernstein even more closely into the position of present-day Mahler interpreter No. 1. His idiomatic phrasing and structuring of both parts and whole is masterly and his use of an unknown soprano Reri Grist, instead of landing him in trouble pays off in freshness and simplicity in the evocation of innocence in the fourth movement.
The recorded sound is most acceptable; there is a welcome sense of space around the orchestra and the clarity of soloists and sections is likewise very agreeable. (The Mahlerian is well served by the Philips issues of not only Bernstein's Three and Four but also Walter's One. Nine and Lieder eines Fahrenden Gesellen.)
There is really very little point in reviewing Decca records of Boskovsky conducting the Vienna Philharmonic in The Strauss family—neither they nor their engineers have ever dropped a dud yet. Their two new releases are Graduation Ball/Spectre de la Rose (SXL 2250) and Tales From The Vienna Woods (including "Bahn Frei," "Radetaky," "Du und Du" etc., on SXL 6040). All the usual tributes to the VPO's strings, brass and precision of ensemle hold here and Boskovsky again out does the late Clemens Krauss in his projection of the Strauss magic. The sound is of demonstration quality; I noted especially the splendid cello tone in the Weber, the percussion transients in "Bahn Frei," the zither in "Vienna Woods" and the location of cellos trumpets and triangles in the "Perpetuum Mobile" section of Graduation Ball. These records are excellent examples of straightforward stereo recording of orchestral sound. Highly recommended.—A. W.E.
First Work Promising
The Eye of the Hurricane. Poems by Fleur Adcock. Published by A. H. & A. W. Reed. 12/6. Reviewed by Cathie Gordon.
This is Fleur Adcock's first published collection of verse though her work has appeared in "New Zealand Listener." "Landfall" and Other "publications. This young New Zealand poet has a gift of quiet delicately-phrased lyric, such as shown in "Summer is Gone":
"Here trees have no use for their leaves,
Branches are numb, the sap sealed in.
The sky constricting, the wind unanchored:
Summer is gone to another country."
Too often, however, in these poems her technique is not matched by her material.
Many of the poems are either love lyrics too tied to unexplained personal incidents to have emotional impact on the reader, or poems of comment dependent on recondite allusions to the classics. But where she describes adult experience through the imagery of the nursery story — "Beauty Abroad" and "The Beanstalk," her wit delights.
"No: on the fallen beanstalk
The hen with yellow eye
Clucks a dull derision
Of ladders to the sky."
Fleur Adcock's essentially feminine poetic style does succeed in one difficult and rarely achieved field—the poetic depiction and understanding of child and parents—as in "For Andrew" and "For a Five Year Old," which declare a mother's concern towards the child's "kind of faith."
"From me—who purveyed
The harshest kind of truth to many another
But that is how things are: I am your mother
And we are kind to snails."