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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 33, No. 6 6 May 1970

The Ugly Suckling

page 21

The Ugly Suckling

Photo from Embryo

Alan Browne

One of the main arguments against abortion is that we as choate human beings are in no position to place a value on an inchoate life as it nestles defenseless in the womb. That is why I refuse to take a de-foetus attitude towards Embryo. It is underdeveloped and could have used another seven months preparation. However, considering that reviews are easier produced with a type-writer rather than with a rusty knitting needle I would prefer to accentuate the more productive aspects of the happening (billed as "a musical to get involved in").

With something as revolutionary as Embryo there is a tendency to victimise because of what it is not. It is certainly not Extrav. Neither is it for those who are in the habit of installing themselves in the auditorium and demanding "entertain me". Rather it is a minor failure at being itself; a failure partly attributable to the surroundings in which it appeared and to the type of audience that came ill-prepared and left disillusioned. The first-night audience came to see teenage impersonations of Kiwi Keith only to see, in fact, a pulsating mass of ugliness which seeped off the stage and confronted it personally. Old hat to students, but terrifying to the silent majority.

Before I get much further, however, I must register a caveat. This whole review is based on the traditional first-night affair and considering that the format of the show has since allowed a total reversal of halves and a lengthening befitting an embryo, I may easily be chasing moonbeams as well as talking about that which must be experienced.

The photographs accompanying this are worth a thousand words in outlining the basic appearance of the actors in their environment. What they cannot convey any more successfully than I is the appeal to the minds (sic) of the audience to fill in the gaps, intentional and otherwise, observable from the auditorium. A blanched producer (Ian McDonald) himself initiated the appeal which demonstrably fell on deaf ears. 'Theatre of the mind" as he called it, although the phrase is not his, is no more likely to excite New Zealanders who have paid their admission fee any more now than it might have done fifty years ago. This is not to say that the onus can be nailed to the audience's back and left there. Blame is fairly apportionable and it is equally true to suggest that a substantial chunk of the cast were vegetables with a penchant for exhibitionism. They were mercifully only part of a whole which was brought up to scratch by the infinitely more talented Tony Backhouse (composer), Deborah Pearson (choreographer), and Simon Morris (character guitarist)—there's no getting away from talent. These three ensured that the requisite standard of ugliness and chanting hypnosis was achieved and from time to time, maintained.

Music was essentially just another weapon on bludgeon in a ratbag armoury of spot and coloured lighting, taped sound, spotty makeup, tatty wardrobe, movie film (cartoon and solid), and good old fashioned noise. Each had its own moment, usually fleeting, of effectiveness although since the music was easily the most compelling and original it is pertinent to ask why words (a valuable form of communication if used sparingly as here) were allowed to be totally unintelligible when the whole band was playing.

Perhaps when one becomes hair-splitting like this, it is time to close. Before I do though, I would point out that a gang of professionals would be unlikely to improve on what the cast has achieved. They could only be less ugly and thus less provocative. There is surely a place for future Embryos just as there is a place for Extrav, neither being inferior to the other.

Many of the cast will have gained much by this experience. If you haven't been to Embryo, go along—if only to find out how narrow minded you are.

Alan Browne

Alan Browne

Photo of flute player