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Salient: An organ of student opinion at Victoria University, Wellington. Vol. 23, No. 5. Wednesday, June 15, 1960

The Knight of the Burning Pestle: Extravaganza 1607

The Knight of the Burning Pestle: Extravaganza 1607

Francis Beaumont's play "The Knight of the Burning Pestle," produced by John Dawick, opened at the Victoria University Little Theatre on Tuesday, April 26, and ran for a season of five nights. The word soon got around, after the early patrons had seen such magnificent characters as the Knight, the Citizen's Wife and Barbaroso, that here was a brilliant little show worth every penny of the admission price. Later in the season people were turned away. The "Dominion" appeared on the morning after the first night with a complimentary review highlighting the play as a burlesque. What a contrast was the "Evening Post" review with factual and grammatical errors spoiling its value as criticism.

Platform Stage

An outstanding feature was the platform stage built—solidly— right out into the auditorium. The considerable size of this apron enabled a great deal more movement than the small existing stage would have allowed, and showed its worth particularly in the fight scene between the Knight and Barbaroso. the Mile End scene and the forest scenes. In many other ways too, it brought the play right out to the audience and added greater effectiveness to the dialogue.

One of the most effective parts of the set was the false proscenium arch which extended right across to the side walls giving an effect of considerable width. This together with the inner stage made practically "all the world a stage."

Violence And The Macabre

Not without its share of violence and the macabre, the play contains a number of beatings and fights a ghost scene and two scenes with a coffin on stage; but nevertheless burlesque is always the dominant note. We may feel sorry to see poor Master Humphrey so sorely beaten, and Jasper too. The fight between Ralph and the giant Barbaroso is one of the visual highlights of the play. Another highlight was the Barbaroso mime scene on the inner stage. This use of the American split stage technique was an Innovation and very effective.

Inner Play

The interweaving of the plot of the inner play "The London Merchant" and the scenes with Ralph playing the Knight, dictated by the Citizen and his Wife was very skilfully done. But alter the Barbaroso scene, as the demands of the Citizens became more and more extravagant, Ralph's adventures lost their connection with the inner plot. As a result the play became somewhat disconnected and ran along two different lines. This was, of course, Intentional as Beaumont was more concerned with playing out his burlesque than with providing a completely satisfactory plot.

Large Cast

The play contained a large cast. All were at all times capable, and some stood out brilliantly. Michael Hattaway as Ralph had an exacting comedy part of many moods and he succeeded admirably. The Citizen and his Wife were prominent throughout. Barry Green and Philippa Palmer made an excellent pair. Laurence Atkinson as Venturewell cut a proud figure, accentuated by his brilliant red costume, and admirably contrasted with Master Humphrey, played by Ian Morton who played to good effect this ridiculous character. The lovers, Jasper and Luce were nicely played by Jennifer Gore and Philip Knight. On the comic side, again, were the Knight's dwarf (Juliet Dobbie) and his squire (Juliet Sheen). Juliet Sheen's facial movements were along the right lines but somehow not quite convincing. Paul Haley made a fine Merrythought and Linda MacDougall was the very incarnation of Mistress Merrythought. John Gamby played the rumbustious role of Barbaroso with relish.

Gamby as Barbaroso.

Gamby as Barbaroso.

From the master mind of Francis Beaumont came a play of wit and warmth, a play which has a great appeal—even across three and a half centuries. To the main stream of this work have been added in the Victoria Drama Club production, many tributaries. So that while so much is due to Beaumont, there are also many aspects of the play for which we can thank the producer, set designer, costume designer, composer, a number of others, and of course, the actors themselves. Following after the first-rate production of "Oedipus Rex" last year, "The Knight of the Burning Pestle" sustains and enhances the club's reputation and its versatility. We hope that in 1961, with the opening of the new Little Theatre in the Student Union building, the Drama Club will again present a show of equal quality.