Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume. 33, Number 7. 27 May, 1970
Let me outline an experiment. Choose a crowded thoroughfare (Cuba Street Mall or Willis Street on a Friday evening). Stand with arms akimbo and shout "Macbeth!" Some people will stand and stare, others will cross to the other side of the street and yet others will ask you what all the fuss is about. The one factor common to all responses will be recognition. Nearly everyone has heard of Macbeth and nearly everyone has a response to it.
To a director this is a challenge. He must beware of not falling prey to the fuzzy demands of a thousand theatres of the mind. And how persuasive they can be, Take the witches for example: I have not yet seen a production of this play in which the witches are much more than a necessary embarrassment; yet how fundamental they are to the whole progression and working out of the play. In this production, I have attempted to create an atmosphere of magic and strangeness; a theatrical world in which it is natural for the supernatural to influence mens' lives and lead to their downfall.
We are attempting to interpret the play through light so that it becomes one accelerating flow from the first whisper of the witches to the final working out of their purpose with the establishment of Malcolm. To this end we have telescoped time and place and on occasion blurred scene divisions. The play will be performed without an interval.
To return to my opening experiment: try it. When people ask you what it is all about, tell them to come to the theatre and find out.
Richard III has been perhaps the most consistently popular of Shakespeare's plays right from its first performance, but to my knowledge has never been done in Wellington, except by the touring Old Vic Company in the late forties.
I've been hooked on the play for years, both for its superb theatricality and the chances it gives to the actor playing Richard. I think, also, that it would have to be done very badly indeed for an audience not to enjoy it. It moves at lightning speed, there are no sub-plots to impede its headlong pace and it has, in the best sense, a strong melodramatic ending.
I don't really want to talk about what sort of production I am doing for Unity, or what we are trying to achieve. If we succeed that should be obvious when you see the play. The middle of rehearsals, with the director fluctuating wildly between elation and despair, is not a good time to ask what it's going to be like. But whatever happens—it won't be dull.
Antony and Cleopatra
I find Anthony and Cleopatra a challenge, and need I give more reason for wanting to produce this play? It's been gnawing at my inside for years, like Anthony's has been gnawing at Cleopatra's and Cleopatra's at Anthony's. You know about the play, I wonder how much you know about the problems of producing it? A long time ago I went through my first internal dialogue and after much thought put the red pencil through all the 'Pompey' scenes. This shortened the play without weakening to any great extent the main line of the story. Theatrically, my action had some justification, as modern audiences awake at eight and expire at eleven. I cut more and more, and then I began to erase my erasures until I found myself with the play intact. I began again and 'Pompey' once more went to oblivion.
But now I face the greatest question of all, how do I interpret the thoughts (not the words) of Shakespeare? And on this point I find myself in a whirlpool, for the play becomes more difficult as it progresses. In the opening scene we meet Anthony and Cleopatra in a rich sensual mood. To me this scene was insoluble. I asked myself how the hell can Anthony and Cleopatra get in this mood fifteen lines from the beginning of the play? Shakespeare, I said, was mad! Weeks later I solved it and gave Shakespeare the benefit of sanity. Shakespeare's thoughts were about luxury and ease (the kind that comes from going to the theatre after good food and drink). And from here grew the image-music-dancing. As a result the play opens with music, dancers and wrestlers. I feel so confident about this scene now that I've cut the first fourteen lines, and Cleopatra has the fifteenth. Yet, I feel I'm being faithful to the thoughts of the author; in fact I'm absolutely sure.