Salient. Victoria University of Wellington Student's Newspaper. Volume 31 Number 2. March 12, 1968
Night of the Ding Dong
Protest has taken many different forms in Unity Theatre's rather erratic career of the last 25 years.
In 1942 a group of politically pale pink people combined to perform a "living newspaper" play exhorting patriotism and struggle during World War II. Its propaganda was abundantly obvious, and during the first years of production Unity's impact on its audiences, while welcomed as a significant contribution to the rather sparse dramatic fare of the city, gave the establishment qualms and led to the branding of the theatre's entire membership as "a bunch of communists".
But now, as then, protesting is by no means confined to left-wing agitators, and having become reasonably well dug in after a quarter-century of production, Unity still keeps its basic ideals although most of the original personnel have long departed.
The latest production, "The Night of the Ding Dong" which opens at the society's theatre in Aro Street on March 14, is a delightful example of history disguised as entertainment and principles presented as major comedy.
The play concerns the Russian scare off Adelaide in the 1870s, but the period setting in no way conceals the basic problem which confronts the Pacific nations today—the efficiency of government expenditure on short-term defence or longer-term education.
And with hawks and doves squabbling over Vietnam, it can be pointed out that really this isn't anything new—a century ago the birds were here before, as the Australian magpie and the Russian eagle fluttered over New Guinea and led to panic stations in the adjacent colonies.
Colonialist policy and aggressive defence have been most effectively satirised in this Ralph Peterson play. First performed by Unity in 1961, it has been revived as being of particular relevance to the current world situation.
Student participation in the production is considerable, and Unity works as closely as possible with the University regarding ideas exchange, productions of readings related to curriculum, and concession rates for student members.
"The Night of the Ding Dong", produced by Will Juliff and Muriel Firth, and with performances by Alistair Douglas, Elizabeth Coulter, Brent Whitwell and Sarah Delahunty, will run from March 14 to 23.
Alexei Arbuzov's "The Promise", V.U.W. Drama Club's first production for 1968, failed completely to live up to its name on Saturday.
The 20th Century melodrama is set, somewhat arbitrarily, in Leningrad during and after World War II.
From start to finish it was too sentimental, corny, and hollow for even the most willing in the audience to suspend their disbelief.
The plot is a varialion on a well thrashed theme— a girl and two young men are thrown together by the circumstances of war (the terrible reality of which is suggested by periodic explosions and bursts of gunfire backstage).
Sooner or later she is forced to make a choice between them. She does so and the rejected one stifles his tears and goes off to build bridges.
After six bridges and 13 years he returns and proclaims general disillusionment (comrade civil servant Arbuzov must have had his heart in his mouth writing this part)—all three realise their adolescent ambitions have failed and decide a change of husband for the heroine is the only decent way out.
Perhaps an experienced company could have brought some style, if not pointfulness, to such a hapless script but this production (bar one or two lighting effects and a good set) had nothing.
Margaret Brew was just a little loo physically unprepossessing for the heroine's role.
All three actors were too nervous and diffident for the thing to work at all—I got the impression they were in sympathy with the audience and didn't believe it either.