Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 28, No. 7. 1965.
The Devils: Play Overdone?
The Devils: Play Overdone?
But there was one thing sadly lacking:
For all their theatricality
None of them had our good old JCW vitality.
The problem with the Campion production of The Devils is that so much that is exceptionable, they say, appears in the script as stage direction. This shadowy but insistent presence of the author, jogging the producer's elbow, makes it difficult to allocate responsibilities; what seems at first to be the flashy deployment of spectacular techniques of presentation as a not entirely honest substitute for coherent directing of the actors becomes suddenly crucial to the play itself: it's Whiting, not Campion, who is being dishonest. The battery of the senses is not a producer's trick but a necessary protective mechanism written into the work. And it's overdone: the extravagant compensation for the lack of real drama points up its own meretriciousness. ("Everything but the cloven foot" was thrown into the production, said the Evening Post writer, whom we must thank for that exquisitely rendered apercu.)
Peering through the smokescreen, one can't find anything very impressive. The dialogue is "literary" but without style, clumsily declamatory, divorced from the real language of spoken exchange. Non-communication, in fact—the absence of significant conflict and the isolation of the individual protagonists—seems to be the central fact about this inept exercise, and the production, properly, one supposes, reinforces the play in this. The set, by Don Ramage, uses a vast area of acting space almost without fixtures, into which fragments of scenery are pushed from the wings or lowered from the flies as the characters wander in pairs through the succession of scenes. Lighting changes continually and coloured projections are cast on the cyclorama.
None of the actors, vehicles for the units of monologue, departs far from a pretty low mean of competence. John Batstone as Grandler, around whom the tediously inevitable action centres, doesn't provide a very remarkable focus: a stolid actor whose movement tends to woodenness and speech to an embarrassingly conscious use of The Voice. Kristin Strickland is elegant and sympathetic in an impossible situation— her part of Sister Jeanne more than any must derive its force and significance from representing attributes of the social-religious context which isn't evoked at all. Alistair Gordon, it must be said, does much within the part of De Laubardemont to establish this sort of feeling for the shared experience of an age, essential if Whiting's historicism is to have any validity, and in this producton quite missed. Roger Hall, Patricia Howell and Maarten van Dijk, to group them for brevity unjustly together, played their lesser parts with subtlety and strength. Stephen Whitehouse and Michael Hirschfeld are a good bourgeois pair, though perhaps too mild, and Whitehouse invests his part with rather more poise than it demands.
But the actors, in any case, are impotent. In this anti-dramatic production people are subordinated to special effects. The confusion and opacity of the whole find their final expression in the ultimate effect, as at the end of the play the actors onstage are engulfed in artificial smoke. I hope that the Drama Club's next production will use three drably dressed actors whose only props are a table and two chairs.—Peter Robb.
It should be noted that the Peter Robb who wrote this review is not the same person as the Peter Robb who is Arts Editor of Salient. Henceforth the former Mr. Robb will be denoted by his year of matriculation, as Peter Robb (1964), and the latter by the use of his initials, P.G.R. They will then cease to take responsibility for each other's opinions.