Other formats

    Adobe Portable Document Format file (facsimile images)   TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

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


page 13


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.

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.

Knicker 'n' nice

If Downstage's latest venture is to succeed plenty of scriptwriters will be needed. Every Friday and Saturday night, after the main show, Downstage plan to present a satirical revue. Although the bulk of material for the opening programme (the revue began last weekend) is by two members of the four-man cast, Steve Whitehouse and Roger Hall, new material will be needed if a completely new show can be presented every six weeks.

The other members of the cast are David Smith and Cecily Poison. Miss Poison has previously appeared at Downstage in The Killing of Sister George and is currently playing the part of Julia in Two Gentlemen of Verona. Messrs Whitehouse, Hall, and Smith will be familiar to students for the appearances in university revues, extravs, and debates.

Producing the revue is Dick Johnstone who claims "the idea of this show is not only to provide high-quality satire, but also a late-night entertainment other than striptease".

Knickers: Downstage's new late night satirical revue featuring Cecily Polson (astride), Roger Hall, Dave Smith and Steve Whitehouse.

Knickers: Downstage's new late night satirical revue featuring Cecily Polson (astride), Roger Hall, Dave Smith and Steve Whitehouse.

Ionesco at Unity

For those interested in the zany theatre of Eugene Ionesco a trip up Aro Street to the Unity Theatre is a must. This week Unity is presenting a production by Nola Millar of Ionesco's Rhinoceros.

Using a number of experienced actors including Jeffrey Rowe as Berenger, Douglas Drury and Jan Fraser and a number of university and training college students. Miss Millar's production promises to be an interesting and lively one.

The Aro Street theatre, surely one of the most fascinating in Wellington, has been rearranged for this production in order to cope with the demands of the script for a French market-place, a publishing office, and private bedrooms-all of which have to collapse during the play as a herd of rhino enter.

Over the past few years Unity have presented a number of plays with student actors (notably Life of the Insects and Baxter's The Bureaucrat). Later this year they will present an unset production of Stephen D, based on the writings of James Joyce.