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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 36, Number 18. 26th July 1973

The Best of All Possible Worlds: Theatre Action, Concert Chamber this week

The Best of All Possible Worlds: Theatre Action, Concert Chamber this week.

Inside the Concert Chamber there's a sparring match with rigged rules between the Watersiders and the FOL in the centre of the audience, competing with a schmaltsy singer in one corner. In another, what appears to be a mechanical soldier stiffly salutes, and salutes, and. . . until suddenly all the performers vanish; the 'real' performance gets underway with the appearance of Edward Gibbon Wakefield riding on the back of one of his working-class immigrants. The first half moves brilliantly through what could be described — lamely — as a potted portrait of settlers, politicos and others till we reach the coronation of King Dick (alias Seddon), and the advent of prosperity along with a name for progress, i.e. an identity as both a nation and people. Theatre Action perform imaginatively and economically, drawing a character in a deft movement. But it's not really an attempt to produce well- rounded characters or a fixed story line; it's more a mosaic of images moving very fast, with no time for the audience to fix onto a particular one, or to abstract themselves from the action.

Problems arise after the interval. The audience has typed the production: fast satire with an element of mysticism and an underlying pessimism. So they're not prepared for the extreme realism, the plodding pace when the troupe shows us life here and now in 'The Best of All Possible Worlds', alias NZ, alias 'mashed potato feel'. We tend to define good theatre by its attack, and very often equate a sharp, incisive performance with swiftness. Thus the slowness challenged a fairly basic conception, and to a certain extent alienated the audience. It took me a good ten minutes to adjust to the changed pace, and perhaps also the dreariness, before I felt at ease again — only to be disrupted by the appearance of some unimaginative, dull stereotypes. Most of which I have seen before offered as objects of ridicule, and which serve only to make me angry at the creator's sterility and arrogance. Theatre Action redeemed themselves by mixing in familiar with unfamiliar themes and caricatures and, in general, presenting them in tones rather than blatant black and white. Certainly the second half lays itself open for criticism on several planes, but I think only that which regrets the occasional loss of imagination and what could be called a sense of dignity is valid. The audience is left to reconcile myths with reality. With action going on all around the audience, people had frequently to make a choice between one event and another. The audience here is a far more active concept than the easier 'picture frame' presentation, wherein each individual sees the same things.

'The Best of All Possible Worlds' is not only enjoyable, but also challenges certain basic categorisations, the least of which is concerned with theatre.