Salient. Victoria University of Wellington Students' Newspaper. Volume 31, Number 18. July 30, 1968
Thoroughly modern Willy
Thoroughly modern Willy
Two Gentlemen of Verona currently at Downstage is first and foremost most attractive and enjoyable entertainment. Beautifully clad it is both glossy and slick rather in the style of a pop LP cover. The excellence of the costumes and the designs brings the production half way to success and, I contend, makes it memorable.
The other half of the distance to accolades of excellence runs into a number of hazards. Relying so much on the "mod" appearance of the production producer Dick Johnstone is inclined to overlook the play and the performances. Perhaps that is a little harsn; if the intention is to provide a frothy evening's entertainment and if this can be achieved best by the use of the externals of theatre, then all is, to some extent, justified. Some would argue that this play is not all frothy entertainment, that it does present serious and important facets of love in an intelligent and intelligible fashion-that it does not require buffoonery and brashness to make it tolerable to twentieth century ears.
But it would seem to me that what the producer has intended to do is to use the play as a vehicle to reveal the flexibility of his theatre and his considerable dexterity as a producer; to make the play fun, and to get laughter from the audience. If this is the criterion then the production is a success.
Perhaps the play would have been other things in other hands (to paraphrase David Lean I am sure Dick Johnstone would admit that he could not produce the kind of production some critics would produce if they could produce plays.)
The play is immediately intelligible (at least it was to me) which is a relief-so many productions of Shakespeare, with whom I am not overly familiar, see me struggling, usually in vain, to grasp one line in ten. Here, perhaps it was proximity, the sense came through quite clearly and I knew all the time what was happening.
I refuse, it's my whim and I can be condemned for it, to criticise this production for what it could have been. I can only pass an opinion on what was there and my opinion is that it is very good fun.
Maybe Mr Babbington and Dr McKay were right when, in their radio dialogue, they condemned the production for not finding in the play what is applicable to the modern world and showing this to the audience instead of swathing it in a cloak of modernity. But Mr Johnstone has chosen to give us an evening of campy and amusing gloss; he achieves this through the use of externals (fascinating lighting, sets, costumes, music, movements). The important thing is he does achieve it. It was his decision and in these terms the production is quite clearly a success.
True the production does not achieve excellence and this is because of the repeated use of externals-not enough emanates from the actors and although understandable the play is it is nothing other than a vehicle for fun. I doubt if I will remember any one moment in the play or any one actor in six months time but I will remember the production and I will admire it for its gloss, its slickness, and for the producer's dexterity in manipulating such a large cast with such ease over a large area of the small auditorium.
I would have hoped for a stronger control over the actors. George Henare's exuberance could have been tempered a little, Cecily Polson's Julia could have been more positively drawn. Honours go to Peter McKenzie as Valentine who, particularly in the first half of the play, gave a strong performance; unfortunately he did not quite convince at the end where he has to forgive the fickle Proteus. Russell Duncan gave the most sustained performance of the evening as the Duke and through his poise he contrasted effectively with the rest of the cast.
Raymond Boyce, Valerie and Alan Svendsen deserve much praise for the way in which they designed and dressed the show.