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Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 30, No. 7. 1967.



The main problem with the Unity Theatre Under 25 group production of Life of the Insects seems to me to be the play itself. Written early in the 1920s the play still presents three acts of intelligent satire but destroys itself by being overly didactic.

The brothers Capek are not content to imply but must underline their every point. They do this through one character, the Vagrant, who dreams the three acts each of which tells a separate story and satirises a different aspect of human folly.

The part of the Vagrant, as seen in this production, appears totally unnecessary to the play for it adds nothing to the satire. "Audience identification" Is doubtless his justification but few in the audience could fail to identify themselves elsewhere.

The first act—the butterflies, superficial company at the best-wandered from high camp to heterosexual misadventure. It was amusing, it was witty, its aim was clear; its savage undertone in the death of Victor neatly hinted at.

The second act shows the beetles and the crickets and turns from the high life to the problems of domesticity. The poor beetles spend years building their pile to have it stolen; the crickets finding a new home only to be eaten by a fly. It's funny, it's sick, but then the Vagrant enters to point out to us, the audience, the horror, the violence, the tragedy which anyone with half a faculty could not have failed to notice.

The ant scene, cleverly produced by Pauline Hosking, reveals the horrors of the slave state and of war. It is probably the best scene in the play but in creating illusions of war the producer forgot the reality of time and minutes of marching back and fourth seemed like hours.

And the Vagrant again, now engaged in a dialogue with a chrysalis who for an act and a half threatens to emerge from her cellophane and do something great.

Vagrant then meets the go-go moths who extoll the beauty of life and then fall dead, the chrysalis on finally emerging does the same. I could not help wondering at the relevance of the go-go dance the moths engaged in—what could have been a moving scene with dance underlining the moths predicament is left at the go-go level which strikes me as a little meaningless—unless, of course, life is a whirl in a great discotheque.

Surrounded by corpses Vagrant himself gets the idea and in his own version to the go-go proceeds to die.

But the play which should have finished some fifteen minutes before this point, continues. Death must be hidden from the innocent and the vagrant's body is removed from the sight of a schoolgirl by a passing woodcutter.

One thing that puzzled me was the illusion and reality of the play. The Vagrant enters and befriends (?) the audience and then sees, dreams, or has a vision of the butterfly world, this changes to the beetle and then to the ant world. But all the worlds appear to the audience as visions in the Vagrant's imagination yet when he dies he does so right in the centre of the dream world—is his death also an illusion?

A theatre used as fully as this one was could have kept some distinction between what was real and what was illusion. But that I expect is a minor complaint and the Unity production was as a whole fascinating and it demonstrated the producer's considerable talent.

Bob Lord