Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Vol 35 no. 9. 9 May 1972
Narrow Road to the Deep North
For a play so foreign to the Downstage type theatre goer the present production met with an amazing response on the night that I saw it. As usual the conversation before the curtain rise was more concerned with the nature of the restaurant's coffee pots than it was with the impending theatricals, such an atmosphere usually leads to theatre of a similarly banal nature, however the theatre won this battle and a night was spent in contemplation that is rarely afforded by a theatre that seems more often to concern itself with mimicking the techniques of cinema rather than the exploration of the magic of theatre that was attempted on this night.
This is a play that has a great deal to say to anyone who cares to think, but is not a play where the message submerges the medium. It is a parable that is of essence theatrical rather than moralistic. For a play without heroes it is nigh impossible to feel out of sympathy with any of the major protagonists and so one's sympathies are a little cloudy at the end when the Empire is richer by one jewel.
Ian Mune both directs the play and by virtue of his performance as the Tyrant Sgogo is rather the key to the action in terms of the stage as well. As a performance his is finely tuned, amazingly, as he directed himself. He does however labour under some difficulties as the script has forced upon him some rather difficult pieces of Orientalia that are just not within the range of ability of a western trained actor no matter what the level of his skill. This is best illustrated by the dressing of Mune early in the play. The use of subordiate actors to do this on stage is a normal part of Japanese theatre but under the heavy hand of the west it does not work, for the speed necessary for cush work is just not within the scope of the western theatre bond has taken ideas from eastern theatre and yet still depends on a script that is to dominant to carry such theatre. He has however moved closer to what I believe is the leaning that theatre must have if it is to survive as an essentially primitive art in a technological world. That is, it is a play of myth, a play of the extraordinary, rather than an aping of the commonplace.
Ken Blackburn is as good as it is possible for an actor to be, working as he is in a mood that is all too uncommon in our local theatre. His is a performance that illustrates the quality that distinguishes the stage actor from the actor for television. His is not the illustrative or representative style. His is a performance that is creative. He plays the part of the poet forced by circumstance into politics with restraint and great ability. Basho is a man who is by nature arrogantly retiring and he exercises power in a way that is plainly enjoyable to him, even though he remains a cynic and although his was a greatness that was thrust upon him.
John Banas as the young Priest Kiro is at times the personification of innocence itself. It is a part that requires the greatest delicacy, and the professionalism of Banas coupled with the expression of a Viennese choir boy gives his role the strength and importance of a piece many times its size. John Banas seemed on the night to have more of a sense of the ritualistic than most others on stage. It was on Banas, Mune and Blackburn that the play utterly depends and that is just as well for they got precious little help from the chorus after they opened their mouths.
The other priests, especially Peter Corrigan turned in admirable performances and provided excellent relief from the play as a whole which was fairly hard going. Stephen ("I'm sixteen and not ashamed of my body") Matthews was better than I have ever seen him for as the play as a whole was remarkably relaxed for a piece so stylised, so were all the performances bar those of the students at the Q.E.2. school who were suprisingly bad. There were some very badamong them and when they spoke they were a trifle distracting as the difference in ability from the rest of the cast was so marked. Peter Corrigan was a most engaging and universal cleric. With all the priests there was more than just a hint of Derek Nimmo and the Fal de rol nature of the seminary was wonderfully apparent.
Ronald Lynn as Prime Minister was a well played universal politician and extracted a good milage from the script. As was almost inevitable with a part of this nature the acting was somewhat superficial. Michael Haigh as the pompous and Henpecked Commodore was at his best. His was a role of a predictable quality, a punch magazine version of the British Military of the day. "Their military caste use the language of the nursery." The strength behind the colonial administration was clearly the Commodore's Georgina and here Janice Finn excelled Hers was a beautiful portrayal of the Wesleyan lady missionary and she worked very hard to bring a performance of that standard to the audience.
On the whole quite the best piece of theatre that Downstage has produced in a very long time, for it is effective and important theatrically and has an integrity of purpose that is all too often absent from our stage.
Auditions for a new play, In Search of a Last Stiff, writ ten by former Victoria University student, Jeff Kennedy, will be held shortly after the beginning of the second term.
This is a crazy, Comic-strip piece which will allow for many kinds of different activities and experimentation. Do you juggle? Do you dance, act, play a kazoo, kick old cats? Are you an expert in existential tumbling?
Watch out for notices announcing auditions to be held at Drama House, 91 Kelbum Parade. Corre and bring your energy and ideas.
Persistent rumours indicate that after 35 years of wandering in aimlessly in the kiwi kultural wilderness the theatre scene at Vic is taking some shape and direction in forthcoming new experimental and innovative productions.
Our reporter provided further credence for these rumours when he captured members of the Dance Theatre Group in preparation for a production of an original Dance Theatre piece inspired by the crisis in Northern Ireland.
When pressed to elaborate they further revealed that the production would be staged in September with full sound/lighting/ and set design treatment allowing plenty of time for experimentation with all these facets. Auditions (in private, of course) for male and female dancers, and info for other interested parties may be obtained by contacting Lynda Rigler, 70319 daytime.