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Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 25, No. 3. 1962.

Duel of Angels

Duel of Angels

After the miscarriage of The Lady it is pleasant to report a successful Duel. The curtain rose on tableau Imitating Seurat's "Sunday on the Grand Jatte." This eye-catching opening was not wasted; once our attention was gained, it was held.

Giraudoux has created here one of the most beautiful of twentieth century plays. Its general tone, and in particular, the combination of the serious with the comic, recalls only Bergman's film, "Smiles of a Summer Night," despite the difference of themes and presentation. Much of the play's effectiveness is due to the splendidly theatrical rhythms of Fry's translation which match beautifully the equally splendid rhythm of the structure as a whole.

It was this latter rhythm, the carefully Judged balance of part against part, which was most notable in this production. Helpmann surpassed himself and I do not remember seeing another play so beautifully shaped. Each scene was shaped well In Itself and fitted neatly into the pattern of the whole. To take the first act as an example, the use of long pauses at the beginning was courageous and profoundly justifiable. The gradual speeding up of pace had all the gathering tension created by the entry of parts in a fugue, and the separation of Paola and Armand which climaxed the scene was speeded up like an exciting stretto. The whole was punctuated by the silent appearance and disappearance of the cafe crowd, which caused a sort of darkening and lightening effect, an alternation between miid claustrophobia and the relief which follows it.

All this had the effect of raising theatre to the level of abstract art, white retaining its "message-carrying" function (in this case a conflict of vice and virtue). Much of it must be attributed to Giraudoux himself, but Helpmann, too, deserves his credit. This production showed unusual accord between playwright and director. The play's weakness is excessive wordiness, especially in Acts I and III, but the skilful placing of dialogue avoided monotony, and there was mercifully none of the "square dancing" noted earlier.

Obviously Helpmann could not have achieved this success without the co-operation of the actors and they must also be congratulated therefore although it must have required the external eye of the producer to create the total effect. In point of fact the actors, as a whole, were somewhat disappointing and robbed the production of the final polish which might have made it near-perfect.

This stricture does not apply to Sally Home, who had already shown signs of her remarkable ability as Olivia in Twelfth Night. As Lucille ("Virtue") she combined physical beauty with poignancy and wistfulness perfectly suited to the role. In many scenes Vivien Leigh was obviously leaning on Miss Home's support.

Basil Henson, too, turned in an excellent characterisation of Count Marcellus ("Vice."). The subtle attractiveness of the character was usually nicely balanced against its complementary repulsiveness.

Vivien Leigh, as Poala, the woman attracted to "Vice," was again disappointing, and one could only be pleased that she was in the less important female role. John Merivale played Armand, the man attracted to "Virtue." Although he was more at home than in The Lady, he was still a little awkward in his stance, and failed to catch the finer points of character, so that Armand became more abstract than individual.

To sum up, what have we gained from the visit of "Old Vic"? We have seen a good production, a quite good one, and a dismal one. We have the names of a few good actors to remember (Sally Home, Basil Henson, Patricia Raine). We have seen some fine individual performances (Frank Middlemass's Sir Toby, John Merivale's Sir Andrew, Mark Kingston's Feste). We have learnt, perhaps, not to underestimate local productions. Above all, we have had ample evidence of the fallibility of the "star" system.

Despite one good production, and some excellent moments in another, the total impression left by the company is staid conventionality. There is little of the artistic adventure about these programmes and one is not surprised that the under thirties are branching out in new directions in the English Theatre. It would be a pity if we were to miss out on this young adventure, and I hope that local producers will not be overwhelmed by the financial success of the "Old Vic."

Nelson Wattie.