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Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Special Extravaganza Programme Issue [1953]

The New Zealand Players

page 4

The New Zealand Players

At last we have seen the eagerly awaited debut of New Zealand's first completely professional theatrical company. Unfortunately when I saw "The Young Elizabeth" I had no intention of reviewing anything, so I can only give you with confidence, my most vivid impressions and points which were borne out by subsequent discussion.

My impression after the first of the twelve scenes was one of disappointment. However the feeling did not last and once the players warmed to their parts these were few lapses, and I came away feeling satisfied and full of confidence in our National Theatre. Perhaps it is a little unfair of me to demand a standard as high as that set by the Stratford Players, for example, but the New Zealand Players have set themselves up as a professional theatre and I can see no alternative but to judge them by the exacting standards required of professionals.

The production, costumes, and de cor left Little to be desired and I was particularly impressed by the speed of the scene changes. More dramatic effect could have been achieved, however, with better pointing of climaxes. In the moving final scene, for example, when Elizabeth was awaiting the portentious news from London, the required tension was not maintained. The acting, particularly at the start had a staccato character with did not help the continuity of the play.

The outstanding performance was that of Rilla Stephens as Mary Tudor. She portrayed with true sincerity the passionately serious minded girl and her development into the distracted queen whose religious frenzy finally ended in her death.

Edith Campion as Elizabeth Tudor had the most difficult of tasks. She had to portray the metamorphosis of a torn boyish girl into a dignified mature woman, destined to be one of England's greatest monarchs. She certainly did not make her task any easier in her characterisation of child Elizabeth: when she was young, Elizabeth, though a hoyden, was a supremely graceful one. Edith Campion, in the opening scenes, moved with the grace of a carthorse, it was brilliantly histrionically, but bad historically.

Gay Dean played Catherine Parr very beautifully, and was sadly mourned after her untimely death in an early scene. She was too good for Roy Patrick as Thomas Seymour, who was competent but about as Interesting as a wet Sunday morning, in spite of his physical attributes Patrick lacks colour and stage presence.

Perhaps one of our female acquaintances summed him up rather well when she said, "He was not sexy enough!"

A Wellington amateur group recently tried very hard to entertain us with John Webster's tragedy "The White Devil." One of the few redeeming features of this presentation was the excellent portrayal of Duke Bracciano by Michael Cotterill. I half expected to see the name of this young actor in the list of The New Zealand Players, and was very pleased when I did. The high standard of his previous performance was maintained. Indeed bettered, in his interpretation of the repulsive Lord Tyrwhitt. With more professional experience he will hold his own on any stage.

Bernard Kearns gave a convincing performance of William Cecil and John Carson-Parker played probably the best of the smaller parts as Robert Dudley. One of the highlights of the play was his tense scene with Elizabeth in the Tower. Barry Line-han is a born comedian. Nevertheless his charactersation of the elderly Thomas Parry was not overdone. Deime Hope needs to learn economy of gesture. She insisted on rocking backwards and forwards in an exaggerated manner white speaking her lines. Apart from this defect she gave a satisfying performance of Catherine Ashley. The minor parts were all well handled. A pretty little thing that fluttered on and off the stage occasionally was Diane Rhodes, as the servant girl Amy.

I was disappointed in "Dandy Dick." I think the person mostly to blame was Gay Dean. She was trying so hard to be "in character" as the jovial Georgiana Tidman that she sacrificed the dialogue to that end. She slapped backs, she poked people in the pylorus with her [unclear: uina] and she laughed and talked heartily as was expected of the "horsey" George Tid.

But her voice lacked inflection and she pointed the wrong words thus losing the subtlety of them, it seemed she had studied Georgiana so well, but the dialogue, so little, it may be that she is no comedienne, but in a play as brilliantly written as this of Pinero's burlesqueing, though it may be appropriate, even demanded in some parts, is dangerous and can be overdone.

Edith Campion was unhappily cast as Salome, the Dean's daughter, and though she tried hard and did all that could be expected of her, she had neither the voice nor the appearance for the part. She is perhaps unfortunate in having such a distinctive voice, as one tends to detect Edith Campion in every part she plays

Diane Rhodes. I was pleased to sec, was given a bigger part in this production and she filled it exceedingly well. As Salome's sister, Sheba, she was sweet, simpering and coquettish. Her acting has not yet the polish of Edith Campion's but lam quite confident that that will come.

The Dean himself, played by John Gordon, was a very lovable character. Though his voice was at times a little loo soft for the Opera House, and the piano, most of the lines that I had difficulty in hearing were not vital ones, if any but a superlative actor had been in his place, the production would have fallen quite flat.

I can say nothing about Roy Patrick, as Sir Tristram Mardon, that I have not already said about him as Lord Seymour.

Michael Cotterill was somewhat overshadowed by John Carson-Parker. These two managed to make complete asses of themselves as Major Tarver and Lieutenant Darbey, as was expected of them.

As anyone who had acted in comedy will know it is often very difficult to draw the line between acting a funny part so that the audience laugh at the character of the person the artist portays, and overburles-queing so that if they laugh at all they only laugh at the actor for being such a fool. Bernard Kearns came close to that line at times, but he got away with his caricature of Blore the butler exceeding well.

The best comedian on the stage, however, I thought, was Barry Lineham, as the boorish policeman, Noah Topping. Pinero has drawn another delightful caricature (I hope I am not prejudiced by recent events in the city) and though his dialect did make him a little incoherent at times. Lineham rendered it hilariously.

Keith Bracey as the stable boy Hatcham made the most of his small, though important part.

Rilla Stephens again was a joy to behold us living Hannah Topping, providing a perfect contrast to her ponderous, slow witted husband.

Once again the settings were well done, especially the Deanery parlour scene. The costumes, as in "The Young Elizabeth," were excellent. In fact the only notable technical fault was the piano which was too obtrusive and at times almost engulfed the dialogue At the matinee performances in particular there was some bad fumbling of lines, particularly by the Dean.

The New Zealand Players are, potentially, a good company. I

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was very pleased to see young players like Michael Cotterill. Diana Rhodes and Rilla Stephens being trusted with important parts and using their opportunities so well, Judging by what I have seen of the amateur theatre in Dunedin and Wellington, and other parts of the country, there seems to be an ample reservoir of talent available. The amateur players of New Zealand are of a higher standard the many people think, as has been shown in recent years by such competent producers as John V. Trevor, Ngaio Marsh and Richard Campion. This, in spite of the rampant cultural snobbery such as was illustrated by the difference in size of the audiences seen at the Stratford Players performances and these efforts by New Zealanders to show that the greatest of all arts is very much alive at home. They are a long way from perfection yet, though they are good, and if they obtain the public backing they deserve, we who wish the future of the Arts in New Zealand well, need have no fears.

Name and address supplied.