Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 10, No. 6. May 28, 1947
Fun, Not Propaganda Inspired "Utopanella"
Fun, Not Propaganda Inspired "Utopanella"
Freed from the holy writ of St. Karl and St. Sigmund, Extravaganza 1947 emerged as a light-hearted, entertaining frolic that broke the pattern of recent Extravs and reduced the propagandist shout to a whisper. If there was any deity inspiring the authors of Utopanella, it must have been the Great God Smut—and as that perceptive clown (frock once observed, "A dirty mind is a perpetual feast." The best of the Extravs that I can remember, The Plutocrats or Centennial Scandals, always had the edge taken off their buffoonery by a serious undertone of evangelism. Utopanella is all the more enjoyable for not having any discernible message. Instead, its authors have been content to pillory our local celebrities and our political disputes, and level at both of them a torrent of critical comment heavily veiled with witty vulgarity and some clever puns.
Extravaganza, VUC style, has a pungent flavour of its own. Besides being more competent, coherent and ambitious than the reviews staged by the other colleges, it maintains, in its better years, of which this is one, a strident protest at the inanities and stupidities of New Zealand's public life. While the music-hall depends on trick cyclists and anaemic crooners, the local Repertories on murder mysteries and Wimpole Street, and with literature non-existent, only the cartoonists of the daily press and the authors of Extrav. engage in the art of lampoon. Little wonder that the hero-compere of Utopanella should be a comic strip hero. The healthy purgative of laughter soothes our tempers and reduces our opponents, be they politicians, capitalists, or workers, to more human proportions.
Savage Lampoon of Yanks
But the lampoon has to be amusing. When it becomes merely savage and vindictive it fails. Half way through the episodic Second Act of Utopanella, the audience suddenly became very subdued. I think it was rather uncomfortable and a little bored. There had been something to laugh at all through the First Act, but now when President Bloomer, General McCarthy and a crowd of negroes appeared, the audience realised that the authors were being serious without being very funny. And, as most people are getting a little nervous about the Yanks, an indictment of them would only have been successful if it had been excruciatingly funny. A little pornography came to the rescue, and though people might have been likewise nervous about the Russians they rocked with laughter at the string of doubles entendres in the interview with Hijoe the Oracle.
Compliments to McCreary
The main credit for the success of Utopanella must surely go to its producer, that doyen of college theatricals, John McCreary. His production Bhowed a good appreciation of the difficulties of a script which was clumsy in its stage machinery. Despite the fact that the chorus and some of the principals made their entrances and exits at the command of someone on the stage—"Come on girls and see this," etc.—the producer did marshall and move hit large cast well. More than that, he managed, without one good singer or dancer, to simulate many good song and dance numbers, and I hand him a bouquet (or a packet of smokes) for having the courage to let Stewart Scoones sing a whole song off pitch. Whether by chance or design, the words somehow or other matched the macabre repulsiveness of Scoones' voice, and the song was very enjoyable. The greatest boon to the show, however, was the way McCreary kept it moving, even when the script did slow down. The smoothness, the comparative slickness of the production, and the absence of prompting was a compliment to the hard work and attentive rehearsing the producer must have exacted from his cast. This was perhaps the most distinguishing feature of Extrav., 1947, compared with the Extravs. of previous years that invariably looked like rush Jobs.
Besides freeing itself from the burden of evangelism, Extrav. has, I hope for good, been liberated from Gilbert and Sullivan, and found its music among popular tunes. The retirement of John Carrad has been overcome, too, by the appearance of Jeff Stewart, who composes just those inconsequential and rhythmic tunes necessary for this type of show. The orchestra, in turn, seemed far better than usual, perhaps because undergrads are far more adept at sending it solid than playing orthodox. And in front of the orchestra, Dave Cohen looked, as good as Andersen Tyrer. Who could ask for anything more?
It would be churlish to expect students to be good actors. I didn't, and I was surprised by some of the cast. Dick Collins, in particular, was the epitome of all Mr. O'Malley could be. With confidence and a delightfully jovial benignity, he acted the deus ex machina of Utopanella with all that bubbling good humour lying deep in the soul of every leprechaun. Jeff Stewart was a knock-out as Lady Macbeth, and his farcical mimicry of Maryrose Miller should induce the latter to clear her throat before her next Shakespearean appearance. Jeff also was the only performer with a singing voice that didn't sound like a cement-mixer, though I'm told he was barely audible in the gallery. Peter McConnon displayed well the heartiness of an old salt, and Peter Mitchell effectively portrayed the cold arrogance and genteel, horror of his Duffield. With an ability at dialect unusual in students, Don McClymont, George Webby and Nat Beatus as the Three Witches succeeded in a difficult piece of slapstick that would have been more amusing if it had been shorter. As a cave-man with a wrist-watch and a mighty hunger, Nigel Taylor looked and sounded neanderthal enough in a role that had the unehviable task of sustaining the final curtain.
As for the choruses, they were better trained and had more volume than usual, except for the Communists who sounded very hesitant and nervous and quite lacking in the confidence of the rest of the cast. But the leg-line was shapelier than I've ever seen in the corridors or the Cafeteria, and the ballet in the Third Act did a masterly job of keeping the audience engrossed without dancing. The burlesque ballet in the Second Act was much the same as ever, though a little more-restrained and on that account more amusing.
It was a wise move on the producer's part to save one of his gems till the end of the show when the action was becoming a little tiresome. The extraneous appearance of Davy Jones, his locker and its contents demanded all the talents of John McCreary and Gurth Higgin to put it over. But, "nothing risque, nothing gained," and their number became the highlight of a show that had more sparkle and life, more good lyrics and was more capably produced than any other Extrav. in the last ten years.
And if this sounds rather like fulsome praise, I can only add that I, to my great surprise, am going along to see it again.
—John D. O'shea.