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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. [Volume 39, Issue 8. April 1976]

Easter Celebration at the Hannah Playhouse: Downstage Presents 'Passion' by Edward Bond

page 27

Easter Celebration at the Hannah Playhouse: Downstage Presents 'Passion' by Edward Bond.

'Passion' was commissioned for the Campaign For Nuclear Disarmament's Easter 1971 Festival of Life. As a piece of theatre then it is slightly 'dated', but for a small country tossing the coin over nuclear power, awaiting the advent of Atomic-War Ships and sabre-rattling on behalf of our 'ally' with the Ultimate Weapon, the play's warning is ominously relevant.

'Passion' is a powerful dramatic parable strongly evocative of Bertolt Brecht's 'Mother Courage' and 'Legend of a Dead Soldier'. Its opening is particularly effective. The old woman with her dead son sent back from the war; the stretcher-bearers masked in greatcoats and balaclava helmets; the narrator delivering Bond's lyrical prose in a clinically detached manner. Lighting, makeup and interaction between the characters make this one of the most compelling scenes in the production

The scenes that follow owe more to Spike Milligan's 'Bed Sitting Room' and Stanley Kubrick's 'Doctor Strangelove'. The old woman goes to the Queen to ask for her son back. She is told by the court magician that her son is to be covered in bronze and will continue to serve his countrymen as a monument to heroism.

That the Queen is only a constitutional monarch with no real power is characterised by her inability to make her yo-yo go-go With the help of her Prime Minister (whose yo-yo works) and the magician, the Queen launches a new bomb at the enemy ('May God bless her and all who sail in her') and unveils the monument.

There is a short gasp from the audience as the curtain falls revealing a crucified pigs carcass

In a brutally effective scene, the enemy retaliates and the kingdom is destroyed. Bhudda enters escorting Christ to the scaffold for his crucifixion.

Christ sees the pig and laments, 'I've come too late. Men have already crucified themselves.'

Unfortunately this is the least effective moment of the production. Christ is too full of false piety and anguish where quiet resignation or downright anger is required. His voice is too uncontrolled and breathy to be of much service to the play.

Bond's verdict is that we are all 'mad animals'. The pig is not only a sacreligious object designed to shock, but is a symbol for man's self-debasement. However it is a naive gesture. Naive because as a warning and statement, no one has taken any notice. After the play a common concern seemed to be how the carcass was to be kept preserved for future performances.

'Passion' is a black comedy, a play without humour. Bond takes himself very seriously. We laugh, but helplessly, at the inanities of the ruling elite and the simple-mindedness of those who follow.

There is a ressurection. The magician discovers a way of making a bomb from the dust of the destroyed kingdom, and cycle is all set to start again. We are not being offered hope.

The play ends with a voice-over Confession' from the body of the dead soldier. Here again, if the voice had been less emotive and more controlled the total impact of the play would have been preserved.

It is this unsubtle and emotive heavy-handedness which characterises the production. The narrator turns a box on his table to denote condition changes. A larger corresponding box is simultaneously turned on the stage. When the bomb falls the narrator dramatically crumples the box

This is unnecessary. The narrator does not need to make this comment. The actors onstage make it for him.

It's a pity also that John Banas resists the temptation to make the Queen an obvious caricature or personification of Queen Elizabeth II. There is no need for subtlety here. The satire should have a sharper edge, cutting closer to the bone.

Of all the characters, the Prime Minister was the most authentic and the best sustained. Here was the well thought out balance between fantasy and caricature.

Despite its pessimistic nature, this was an important production for Downstage. Rarely do we have an opportunity to see roughly contemporary works from Britain and America produced here. An increased proliferation would not only give us an insight into the development and progression of modern theatre, but may provide a much needed stimulus to N.Z. writers who are starved of worthwhile examples.

Richard Mays