Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 8, No. 1. Friday, March, 2, 1945
Miss Marsh Interviewed
Miss Marsh Interviewed
Nominated for position of Most Harassed Woman in New Zealand during January is Ngaio Marsh, writer, painter, producer, designer and general artiste. As presiding genius behind the Canterbury College tour of Hamlet and Othello, Miss Marsh has contended with many hardships in getting her troupe on stage throughout the country. That the strain has left little visible mark on her is a tribute to her own vitality, and, let it be said at once, her extreme tolerance. Although the story of the tour must have been told a hundred times. Miss Marsh answered my questions as though she hadn't heard one of them before. The whole affair, she told me, began long before a travelling season was thought of.
Almost two years ago the College Drama Club found itself in a fairly strong position (by which, for the benefit of Victorians, I mean it had the support of the College!) and Ngaio Marsh was asked to produce a play. She agreed, provided the play was Hamlet, and in modern dress. Jack Henderson was the obvious person for the lead, and, after a great deal of very hard work both back and front stage by a great many people (again V.U.C. please note), Hamlet opened rather unheralded in the Little Theatre at the College. There followed a real sensation. The first nighters talked, and within half an hour of its opening on the following day, the box plan was filled for the remainder of the short season.
The College realised that there was a great opportunity to produce serious drama, and last year Othello was staged, with much the same cast, and Miss Marsh again producing. As much sweat went into this play as into the previous one, and the results were just as commendable and exciting. On the morning of the opening of the booking plan the police rang Miss Marsh and told her something must be done about the huge crowd blocking one of the main thoroughfares of the city. All the seats were sold in fifteen minutes.
With Othello the same success as Hamlet, somehow somebody mentioned a New Zealand tour. A certain theatrical company was approached, but the venture appeared unprofitable. Then Colin Allan, when Miss Marsh regards as the company's driving force, went to Auckland to see D. D. O'Connor. Now, Dan O'Connor is the theatrical impressario in New Zealand. He has imported artists like Ignaz Friedman, and the Vienna Boys' Choir, and many another famous name. Mr. O'Connor, a man of impeccable theatrical taste, realised that the presentation of these plays throughout New Zealand was a matter of some moment. He took on the management without any strings, and smoothed away many of the rough spots. Dunedin, Auckland and Wellington were played to extremely good houses.
One of the most pleasing features about this whole venture is the fact that the first all-New Zealand touring company of any calibre has been presenting plays of the highest class. Of equal satisfaction to its producer is that this pioneering company should be one made up of University students.
I asked Miss Marsh about the prospects for the establishment of a group theatre, a project that has been interesting theatre people for some time. It appears that there have been immense difficulties, but all these might have been overcome but for the activities of a professional organisation which holds a virtual theatre monopoly in New Zealand. The proposal was almost finalised last year. "We planned to have a small group of the best actors to tour the Dominion," said Miss Marsh. "We had hundreds of applications, many from really good people. The group was going to have a short period of intensive theatre training, and also of learning to live together, a most important side of touring and group theatre activities generally. We had actually got as far as looking for a 'training camp.' Well, the thing fell through, but we're now trying to breathe a little life into the body."
What plays are you going to tour? I asked. Miss Marsh confessed to a secret passion for Six Characters in Search of an Author, but the management had settled on Three Men on a Horse, a good actable comedy.
"And what about you?" I asked as I was leaving. "Can we expect any new writing from you soon?" "There's a new book coming out any day now, and I've got one half-written and shelved—because of this tour!" Miss Marsh told me some interesting things about publishing in wartime. To spread supplies of rationed paper, her publishing house prints in England, America, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, and the books, because of copyright, must be published on the same day.
Miss Marsh said that, alas, she was doing no painting now, and was giving up all stagecraft for about a year, partly for personal reasons, and partly because "I've got to get back to my job, you know."