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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 36, Number 4. 21st March 1973

"The Ballygombeen Bequest"

"The Ballygombeen Bequest"

is Downstage's current answer to those critics who complain about its light-weight programming. It is an interesting failure to reconcile 'Punch' type satire (the coauthor, John Arden, has described himself as a 'right-wing anarchist') with a romantic plea for the overthrow of capitalism. Although much of the format, for example the deliberate caricatures, breaks in action with choruses and asides, is a derivation from Brecht, the authors get bogged down in solemn, obvious speeches, and realism. They forget Brecht's dismissal of the 'naturalistic' theatre as 'a branch of the bourgeois drug traffic'. Instead of respecting their audience's imagination and ability to draw conclusions without having them repeated past saturation point, the authors drag the theme out. We are offered characters to get involved with, and to identify with. The hero who is killed under interrogation rises from his grave to warn the capitalists that 'there are many more of us', thus ending the play on a false note of security and confidence. I could not help thinking how frustrated the audience would have gone home, if Brecht had handled the theme, since he offers no such easy solution, indeed, none at all. Nevertheless, the Downstage production was to the point, with a powerful performance from John Banas. Although it is impossible to realise successfully because of the inclusion of so many disparate elements and ideas, these in themselves provide a stimulating evening.

New Theatre — that is — students at the Q.E.II Drama School ventured out into Cuba Mall on Wednesday (also again on the 22nd) at lunchtime to try their hand at street theatre — from the safety of the permanent Mall stage. 'I Once had a Friend a Long Time Ago' begins with theatrical overgesture and pretentious conversations about 'Life' and 'Relationships', very intense and emotional. Luckily the performers gave this up to don effective face masks and concentrate on simple unaffected communication. The result is pleasant, if of no great depth. The value of masks, particularly in inexperienced groups, is that the actor can shed his own personality in his effort to become the mask, and that his usual inadequacies, particularly the unwillingness to loose sight and grip of his own ego, are locked behind the mask. I think this is one of the reasons why the use of masks is increasing, after their introduction and propagation by Theatre Action, who deserve a Q.E.II subsidy for this alone. They popped up in the Beggars Bag fable of rugby, a taut and exciting piece if political theatre, and again in Living Theatre's 'The Cup', although in a less decisive fashion — the masks added to the beauty of the group's movements, which were, unfortunately, without meaning or significance.

There was an appearance even in "Ballygombeen Bequest", when the hero's head during interrogation is covered in a bloody sack, thus successfully divorcing the implications of the act from the fate of a single man. Interestingly enough — that is, it fits in nicely with my thesis, the one local group not to try masks, are Amamus, whose Christmas show was an embarrassing melange of outdated stereotypes, ego-trips, and which gave to its audience a content feeling of superiority, thus the illusion of good theatre! Perhaps Amamus could recover their lively appreciation of Kiwi interpersonal politics by making and wearing some masks too.

Downstage's late-show offering during Festival week is a revue, harsh at times, I'm assured, with a dig not only at Wellington, but also Wellingtonians' apathy towards their environment. It began when those involved sat down to talk about what they liked about the city, only to find that the only definite landmarks were its defects. A little of "Ballygombeen Bequest's" politics may also have slipped in, but not stridently.

— Cathy Wylie