Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Vol. 37, No 24. September 18, 1974
Gallipoli: Amamus Theatre Group. Unity Theatre. Directed by Paul Maunder. September 13 — 15, 20 — 22, September 29 — October 1
Gallipoli: Amamus Theatre Group. Unity Theatre. Directed by Paul Maunder. September 13 — 15, 20 — 22, September 29 — October 1.
Amamus' latest production 'Gallipoli' began last weekend and will continue for the next two weekends. It is, quite simply, the most powerful piece of theatre I have seen here this year. I would recommend that everyone who can see it, (especially anyone who is bored, unhappy, dissatisfied with things as they are) should see it. There are not many performances and a very small house — even smaller than Unity usually is — so the first will be the lucky.
I say the 'most powerful piece....'; before I begin to give that statement the qualification it needs, I must emphasise that this is a different kind of theatre from anything else around at the moment. With Theatre Action at present and hopefully reconstituting itself and Auckland's Living Theatre in temporary or permanant dissolution, Amamus can claim to be the only experimental theatre group at present performing in NZ. And some of the force that 'Gallipoli' has is derived from this fact. It's not that the group sets out to startle or shock the audience with avant-garde pretension. But they are working inside a different kind of space and they invite the audience into that working space, rather than sitting them outside as onlookers. As soon as one enters the square canvas rectangle which is both stage and auditorium, one is aware of a new freedom, one feels the expectancy that comes from a lack of precise and comfortable expectations. It is the setting for an event not for a performance. People file in and seated in various degrees of comfort in a circle around the square. It is impossible to avoid each other, impossible not to attend to the action when it comes. I mention further details like the bright house lights and the lack of costumes and props only to emphasise again how close we as audience were allowed to the event, how our reactions were taken into account.
'Gallipoli', as one of the cast said, was the first time NZers felt themselves to have gained some identity in a European context. It was a coming of age and a trial by fire. Now, if we do not use it as an excuse for sentimental indulgence, we regard the very many and familiar attitudes and emotions which surround it as somewhat contemptible cliches. Neither sentiment nor cliche is a promising beginning for a piece of serious and non-satirical theatre. Yet 'Gallipoli' takes on the difficult task of dealing with both and thereby constructs a third entrance into that bit of our past It is at once more harrowing and more honest; the attempt is to discover and actualise the psychological components behind the event and the ways we regard the event. To find, beyond sentiment, the psychological correlative that explains the cliche. The immediate analogy, faced with the actual show, is with psycho-drama as practised in therapy situations — but with the difference that Amamus are not so much exploring their own hang-ups as those of a nation and a culture. The amazing thing is, they accomplish the exploration without arrogance, without posturing or naive pity for Kiwi and his mates. And this can only be because the obsessions they discover in the culture, they also find in themselves as individuals. The major factor in the power of the show, is that through it the audience can realise its own undeniable part in the tangled emotion and half-acknowledged suffering.
The plot, such as it is, does not bear mention. It is important only as a vehicle for what I have called the emotional correlative. In the story of Kiwi what we need to realise is the attitudes he has and the reasons — historical, cultural, local or personal — behind those attitudes. There is a fine line between knocking the shit out of your Kiwi gent and getting him there, in the theatre, straight and honest. This production almost always stays on the right side of that line and does it through group effort, not individual performance. I mean, I do not want to single out particular characters and names — it is the group and the effort that matters. And the amount of effort that goes into a very short play is almost incredible; if it were not so convinced and so controlled you might think that six hysterical maniacs had escaped to a public forum.
'Gallipoli' is not so much frantic as urgent. What criticisms I do have to make arise from the need to sacrifice certain niceties, fine points, to the pace and overall intensity. Bits of what sounded like a very competant working script got lost in the action; at various times I wanted to consider what was said at leisure; it was simply not possible to absorb everything. I felt, too, that some of the movement became a little stereotyped as the production progressed — but these are minor points. The thing I was least happy with was the opening scene where we see the cast out of their heads on some drug or other and deciding to play the game which is 'Gallipoli'. It did not seem necessary, it was rather precious
If I have not said with any certainty what actually happens, it is deliberate. For two reasons: first because in a very real (and not derogatory) sense it is a matter of opinion. I did not see it as the gloss in the programme interpreted and I was given the right to reject that summary. Second, it is a production to be seen not talked about. I took it very personally for I was confronted with a kind of shorthand summary of my past inside a similar shorthand of what this country has been and is about. I saw in the figure of Kiwi all the narrow-mindedness, the gauche insecurity — especially sexual insecurity — the false ideals and nostalgic sentimentality, the fascist undertow we are all to a greater or lesser extent heirs to. As he lay dead at the end I could not reject him and what he stood for, because he was too like myself. It was odd, but no surprise to hear people afterwards talking of where they were born and brought up. I am not exaggerating when I say I experienced a kind of culture-shock at 'Gallipoli', a nexus of half-explained emotion and partly comprehended truths. The culture I had come across was, of course, my own. It was a rare and valuable experience.