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Salient. Victoria University of Wellington Students' Newspaper. Volume 31, Number 18. July 30, 1968

Bright drama in drab theatre

Bright drama in drab theatre

During the last 10 years or so New Zealand has produced a crop of playwrights of unusual interest and vitality. The established writers have grown in variety and competence but much of the vigour has come from the young. One of these is Max Richards who has just had four of his 12 plays produced by the Canterbury University Drama Club.

He has many of the qualities needed in a playwright: Insight, a sharp ear for sounds and rhythm, economy of expression and concern for persons in fact, I suspect that he views every human situation as a potential play. All his writing explores particular incidents or emotions, the despair and loneliness of old age, boredom, sex without affection, the dangers of power.

But he hasn't yet learned how to translate his insights into wholly satisfactory theatrical terms; nor has he learned that good theatre like all good art must have some sense of progress and a quality of surprise.

I don't know how much talent Max Richards has or how he will develop but his ideas are of more than passing interest, and if he is prepared to have his plays kicked around and reshaped by university actors and producers he will soon learn to make them theatrical. At the moment his work is interesting and promising, and my guess is that he will soon be an established writer.

Three plays from this season are to be seen at Arts Festival in Auckland where they will face their most critical audience. One of the problems of university drama is the absense of audiences. The Fire Raisers, even though it was no theatrical miracle, deserved better than the tiny handful it drew here recently and the Richards evening did little better at Canterbury.

Brian de Ridder who produced two of the plays is most capable and imaginative. He knows his theatre, has a very good eye for shape and balance and a high degree of technical knowledge. Though we seem to have plenty of actors and even playwrights, gifted young producers are rare, and therefore doubly welcome.

Finally, I came back from Christchurch with a new and higher regard for our Memorial Theatre after seeing the inadequacies of the Ngaio Marsh Theatre in the Canterbury Student Union building. It is not only untheatrical because of its size and proportions, but it has some of the oddest technical weaknesses: no storage or construction space; no backstage space on the O.P. side unless masking curtains or flats are rigged; front-of-house lights are accesible only by double extension ladders from the floor of the auditorium; and the theatre is built out over the main concourse of the building which acts as a sound-box of unusual magnificence.

A University theatre should be a centre of original work but it must provide facilities to make this possible.