Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Vol 35 no. 18. 27th July 1972
drama — "51" Amamus Theatre Group
"51" Amamus Theatre Group
At Unity Theatre now.
"51" relives the Wharfies' futile attempt at solidarity that broke after 151 days, undermined primarily by economic pressure. The play, a collage doumentary created by the Amamus Theatre Group (who did something similar last year with the Depression), is a forceful and pretty perceptive study of power conflicts between workers and fat-arsed bosses, workers and Trade Union bosses, workers against themselves. At the end of the play only one man is left standing by his conviction that the wharfies had right on their side, the conviction that 'union solidarity' should have won the day.
But it didn't and some of the emergency powers have passed into legislation, ready to be invoked if some other group dares to try the might of the establishment. It comes as a tremendous shock (and this indicates the power of the play) to learn that 20 years later we the next generation, are still beating our heads against the same brick wall; e.g. public opinion still swayed by capitalist controlled mass media- the same demand for law and order, with its close affinities to fascism - extended police powers - the same accusation that all who stand up against prevailing opinion or government policy are either commie shits or weaklings subverted by Foreign agitators - forgetting that this is just the position with the government and visiting 'experts', or the pressures of overseas investment (in 1951 the control of NZ shipping by the conference lines.) It is greatly to the credit of Amamus Theatre Group, under, the guise of the "Watersiders' Dramatics Society" that they have made the effort to understand the wharfie as he is now by going back, and in focussing on one of the most dramatic confrontations in NZ history; have shed light on underlying social paradoxes and incongruence (e.g., the egalitarian myth.) Not only that, but the group portray accurately the man in the street. This is no superior bunch of varsity arty-farties — how could they create the compelling first scene, a portrayal of the daily allotment of work down at the wharves, the daily "confrontation' between workers and management? Someone who knows trade union politics has given a hand here and this element may well go over most educated cosseted heads.
The company have the rare ability to trace us with ourselves, give us a glimpse of our past, and a little more understanding of how we got to be the way we are. It's an uncomfortable mirror to face. Minor criticisms would be the length of the piece-it needs to be split up, and the occasional scene played too blatantly, but there are some brilliant portrayals of Dt. Sgt., Patterson "Call me Dave", and Syd Holland, portrayed as a bungling country bumpkin.
Theatrically, the Amamus Theatre Group is by far the most exciting, most creative group on the Wellington scene—a group that cares enough about the medium to chuck out the usual pretentiousness, expecially when dealing with kiwis, and make an active, lively theatre.