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Salient: Victoria University of Wellington Students' Newspaper. Vol. 32, No. 15. 1969.

Drama — A Failure in Technique

page 11


A Failure in Technique

"War and Peace", adapted for stage by Alfred Neumann, Erwin Piscator, and Gruntram Prufer.

His stage adaption docs not attempt to [unclear: act] the immense range of the novel. In the words of the play, the stage is the "last surviving platform of prophecy", from which we are to be urged, or cuddled, into a sense of historical perspective. For this reason it would be absurd to expect from the New Theatre production an experience which equals the dimensions and intensity of the novel. Nevertheless this production, which had much to commend it, was curiously unsatisfying, even on its own terms. Perhaps this was so because documentary-style reality has little impact on an audience innured to casualty numbers flashed on a screen. To "shock" as his play must surely have been intended to do; a play must either use a technique which is startling from the out-set, or unexpectedly invert a familiar framework.

The documentary technique of the play failed either to shock or illuminate. The approach was one with which the audience was familiar, and us a result the climax, presented as it was, was received with the same impassivity as the evening television news.

It remained for the human interaction and situation to engage the audience. It was at this level that this production, with its use of narrator, "triple stage", and unabashedly open scene changes, was most successful. Not only did the play's resolution make the ambivalence of human endeavour evident, but the "pawn-like" quality of the cast, as it moved to and from appointed places, underlined this. Individual actions were demonstrated, both by the plot and technique of the play, to be governed by external factors, with Chance as the "narrator-director". The conflict between the progressive and the conservative, between the confident and the nihilist approach to life was presented in a way similar to that in Marat/Sade. The cast enacted a ritual. The actions and the conflicts were indicated by a narrator figure, yet the play generated its own ever-increasing impetus; action and reaction building a self-sustaining dramatic tension. The universal implications of the theatrical action were admirably conveyed by this technique. Such a comparison to Marat/Sade, while not completely valid, indicates not only the strengths of this play, but also the weaknesses in this particular production. If, as happened here, the tension and credibility lapses, the whole rhythm is broken.

The production trailed rather than surged to its conclusion, with the quality of the acting in some of the final scenes verging uncomfortably on the pathetic.

Nevertheless, there were some very fine performances. Matt Sullivan, as the narrator had the command and the voice fixture that his role required, and gave a uniformity and continuity to the play. His was a very fine and regular performance which added much to the quality of the whole production. Natasha (Susan Wilson), initially weak, grew in conviction and power. Her performance had a genuine fire and depth which was lacking, generally, in Ross Jolly's portrayal on Andrei. Felicity Day, as Andrei's sister Maria, made thoughtful and imaginative use of small character details. Subtle facial movements and a tentativeness in all Maria's movements gave this portrayal considerable dimension. At times this performance faltered as did that of Ian Watkin as Pierre. Once again, his was a performance given texture by attention to detail. An excellently light and delicious performance was sustained throughout by Sylvienne Shelly as the Countess Rostova.

If the difficulties in presenting such a "realistic and objective approach to theatre are considered, the cast made an interesting and commendable effort: unmarred by bad cues, and forgotten lines. The tedious phrase and word repetition, strangely evocative of movie advertisements, was handled well, especially by Natasha who must have wearied of repeating "'Forgive me".

The setting, central to the whole dramatic objective of the play, stood or fell with it. It was marred by seemingly unnecessary paraphenalia at the back of the stage, which lessened, rather than increased the realism. The using of "skittle" soldiers for the battle at Bordino was thematically telling and technically pleasing. The setting, like the production as a whole, was a mixture of the extremely good and the jarring. The costumes were excellent, having both economy and style.

The production indicates the gathering strength of the New Theatre Club. Much imagination, though and hard work was evident. It is inevitable with a play of such conceptual magnitude that weakness alone; the quality and strength of many of the parts is undeniable. Perhaps if this potential had not been so evident in the parts, then the whole would have been more completely satisfying.