Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria University College, Wellington N.Z. Vol. 21, No. 6. May 28, 1958
Hogg and Shakespeare: — Three Dimensions
Hogg and Shakespeare:
The Victoria University Drama Club's production of "All's Well That Ends Well" was a brave attempt which achieved a very fair measure of success but which fell below the Club's production a few years ago of "Much Ado About Nothing." I make this point because I would not compare a University production with one by a professional company or with a production by one of the major amateur societies; rather would I judge it by the standards of the Club's own best efforts in the past.
Of course, one must treat "All's Well" on its own merits and not complain that it isn't "Much Ado", "As You Like It" or any of the other better known comedies, or be disappointed because Helena isn't a Portia, a Beatrice or a Rosalind and Bertram not an Orlando or a Benedick. No doubt the Drama Club chose the play not only because it would attract an audience from the Stage I English class but also because we too rarely see the less well known plays of Shakespeare. The presentation of one of the sombre comedies with a range of new characters to be studied can be rewarding in many ways.
The decision to come out of the picture-frame stage and present the play in the open was a sensible one but the particular form of open open staging was not altogether satisfactory. The three small oddly-shaped low rostrums were cramping to the players and so disposed in the hall that I for one was looking over my right shoulder to see some scenes and sighting along between rows of faces to see others. The result was to make one more aware of one's fellow members in the audience than of the players. A single open acting area or a modified Elizabethan stage setting with a forestage might have offered possibilities of audience participation without the disadvantages of audience intrusion. Nevertheless there were many advantages deriving from this open style of presentation. Voices were rarely raised, the speeches were not declaimed but spoken quietly, almost conversationally, and nuances of tone and subtleties of vocal and facial expression were conveyed without any striving for effect.
Most of the actors in the major roles played their parts intelligently and together made a team that combined well to tell the story of the play. Donella Palmer had a mature dignity and charm as Helena and always spoke with sincerity. Irene Demchenko has much talent and gave a remarkably convincing performance as the elderly widow, a little downtrodden and middle-class rather than the countess who would have been at home in the court of France. Elizabeth Gordon had some effective comedy touches in her playing of Widow of Florence. In her short experience she has shown real ability to tackle a wide range of parts.
Of the men, David Vere-Jones and Bernard Grice were the most convincing in roles that were far from easy and John Reynolds, living up to the description in the programme, was sufficiently arrogant, spoilt and selfish. John Gamby, who elected to play Parolles as a rather seedy "spiv" instead of a braggart younger Falstaff, was consistent in his characterisation and succeeded along the lines he chose. Some of the other players were somewhat gauche and tentative in the playing of their parts but no doubt they will profit from their experience and we shall see them greatly improved in later plays.
On the whole the company gave a sensible exposition of an unfamiliar play, making the story clear to the spectators, many of whom had probably never read the text. The performance was rarely moving, had no moments of sheer magic that caught us up in the situations and emotions of the players but it went smoothly, was never tedious and showed evidence of much thought and care in the interpretation.
The Club and Miss Millar, the producer, deserve credit for keeping drama alive in the University, for not being afraid to experiment with unfamiliar plays and with unconventional methods of staging and presentation. If the performance fell a little short of the intention that is all the more reason for the University to support and encourage the dedicated enthusiasts who are striving to perpetuate the tradition of University drama in Wellington.