Other formats

    Adobe Portable Document Format file (facsimile images)   TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 39, Number 16, July 12, 1976.


page 14


The New Zealand Drama School Presents:

Bertolt Brecht's The Mother' could not be more opposite. Unashamedly propagandist, The Mother' was written in the early 1930s as a 'Lehrstuck' or learning play to explore the role of women in revolutionary society. The instruction from Lenin 'Without the women there can be no genuine mass movement' is aimed at the actors as well as the audience. By showing Pelagea Vlassova's developing political consciousness. Brecht means us to learn from her example.

To the usual Brechtian 'distancing' or 'alienation devices - slogans, overhead projection use of mime and abstract setting, George Webby has added one other. Instead of one, this production has three women playing the part of Pelagea Vlassova alternatively. This not only stops the audience from identifying too closely with the one character, but emphasises the universal qualities of women in any society.

The Mother' is a powerful piece of theatre. But Brecht's intent is to let his audience become carried away by what they see He wants them to think about it and relate it to their own lives. The audience is not to identify with the characters, but to identify with what they are doing. This production succeeded in making this important distinction.

Aspects of the play had seen a great deal of thought, and the three differing interpretations of the Mother were presented with warmth and humanity. The cast worked well together in a style which suited the collective nature of the production. This was not only a play for instruction, but a skilled professional show.

Unlike "Kennedy's Children', Brecht's play preserves its optimism even in the face of hardship and despair. Pelagea's son is shot, but she is able to put her personal feelings into perspective. She mourns certainly but she does not let her grief cloud her vision or her resolve.

The play also has an earthy humour, emphasised by the use of N.Z. sounding colloquialism. The play takes on an added significance if we realise that many of the events described by it are also paralleled to some degree in our own history; the 1913 Waihi Tragedy, the marches and riots of the 1930s; the illegal printing presses of '51 The difference between these marches and the protest movement of the sixties is that these were matters of economic survival and not seen as ends in themselves.

The Mother' has had a well deserved popularity. It is an excellent play, and people seem genuinely interested in what it has to say. At the moment political theatre in Wellington is thriving. Hopefully the trend will continue.

- Richard Mays

Circa Theatre Presents:

Kennedy's Children is a play that shows a society suffering from culture shock. Set in a New York east side bar in 1974, five 'victims' of the sixties talk, to the audience and to themselves, about their lives. There is no verbal communication between the characters at all Each live in their own little world, seated at their own table, and only a look or gesture establishes contact with the others.

If the characters are not held together by dialogue they are certainly held together by a common disillusionment and malaise. Then there is the atmosphere of the bar itself. Its run by an impassive barman who serves the drinks and keeps the tab in a manner that implies indifference and threat Its as if he's adding up a silent reckoning.

Nothing 'dramatic' happens. The characters talk and the audience perhaps wonders why it isn't being bored. But the stories are compelling and are told in a way that involves and implicates the audience with the events themselves.

The characters are hardly representative. There is Sparger, a 'cracked actor' involved with the New York underground theatre movement. Wanda is a social worker who identified so closely with the Kennedy myth she cannot see round it, even though it has been proven false. Rona is a refugee from the student protest movement and counter-culture. There is Carla, devotee of Marilynn Munro, who realises the sixties weren't all that wonderful, but who sees the seventies as the 'arsehole of the sixties'. And finally Mark, a southern boy, Vietnam War veteren who sits through the whole play reading from his war-time diary.

These monologues, punctuated by juke-box music from 1974; Elton John's 'Candle In the Wind', Bob Dylan's 'Knockin' on Heaven's Door', reveal less about the people than what is left unsaid about themselves. Wanda tries to keep the Kennedy myth alive by giving her life to help under-priviledged children. 'We marched: exalts Rona as if marching were the be all and end all of existence. Despite the fact that the myths have been shattered: Rona's husband has become cynical and militant and is on hard drugs; the founder of Sparger's first theatre chopped himself up in his last performance, they are kept alive because the sixties were the most meaningful part of their lives. They all want to believe in the myth because they have nothing left to cling to. They have allowed themselves to become crippled by the past. The bar is a scrap-heap of lost causes.

We see why the protest movement failed It lacked a mass base and popular support. It was open to exploitation and misinterpretation "They're already bringing out '60s nostalgia records, for chrissake!' This is not a nostalgic or romantic play. It sets out to destroy the myth, and succeeds. Of the five, Mark is the only one with any impetus. He leaves the bar saying 'I know what I'm gonna do now.' It is the only positive action in the whole play

Although the events described have only marginal relevance to us, the attitudes of the five characters are indicative of a whole western pattern of thought. The obsession with myth and fantasy, introspection and pessimism; the need for escape from the terrible realities' of life, are all hallmarks of the western dramatic character

For some, this will not be an easy play to relate to. Others will find it an absorbing testamant to the last decade. It is a tight competent production, and some of the performances are very moving. These actors have established a mood that incites a very personal response If you are prepared to indulge a little in some anti-nostalgia, there is something in this play that should appeal Only by not making sense out of the sixties' sudden 'failure', does the play make any sense at all.

Miss Julie written by August Strinberg.

Strindberg wrote over 50 plays in the course of his mauling life, but this naturalistic piece (1888), and a couple of others, are the only ones you hear much of nowadays. But thank god for 'Miss Julie'. It is brief and fiery.

In a naturalistic play, the audience 'looks in' on some real people alive in the workaday world Kate Jason Smith (designer) has the audience arranged in tiers on two sides of the stage, as if the walls have been folded back to sit on, and you are now within the Count's kitchen. Kate does not mickey mouse the stage with a lot of junk, and consequently her set does not obscure the actors.

Sherril Cooper plays Miss Julie, the Count's daughter, who tries to cross the border line between aristocracy and working class, but becomes fatally caught in no man's land. Jean the footman (John Callen) is a horrific mixture of sex and class hatred. Both Miss Julie and Jean attempt to resort to being just a couple of human beings (instead of lady and footman) but thier flirting is conducted always awkwardly from within the armour of their opposing classes, with the constant fear that the Count will suddenly call Jean on the speaking tube. The end of the play is so close to that of "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?" that you can't help thinking the film must be based on this play.

It is a bitter piece where Cooper and Callen convincingly portray two people in a fight to the death, two people whom Oscar Wilde would have called "closer than friends, enemies locked". It's refreshing after the usual spiritual distance you get in theatre.

Miss Julie is on at Downstage for six nights only, at 8.15pm., July 19 - 24. It takes 90 minutes, $1.50 and I'd walk a long way to see it.

- Martin Doyle

Drawing of a bakery

Concert Review: The Baroque Players, Conductor, Peter Walls.

After hearing a substantial body of Baroque works, perpetrated by some Wellington musicians, in a somewhat heavy-handed romantic, emotive style, it was tremendously refreshing to hear a different stylistic approach made manifest by the Baroque Players, with much vigour and obvious pleasure on Wednesday night.

Peter Walls's approach to Baroque Music seems to be a realisation of the intrinsic emotive force which is present in the music itself: the rhythmic changes which occur within single movements, the sublety of phrasing, and a tightness and control to a more popular style which tends to regard the notes on the page as being rather uninteresting in themselves, and requiring the artifice of a subjective emotional response more in keeping with the romantic approach to music.

The Baroque Players seem totally at home in their rendition of the music and presented a convincing and consistent evening of Baroque music.

This was certainly the case in what was, for me, the highlight of the evening. The Corelli Concerto Grosso (Op. 6, no. 12) achieved marked changes of mood from movement to movement, with the delicate interwoven melodies of the 1st movement contrasted by a knife-edged 2nd movement which they took at a spectacular tempo. And then the 3rd movement was suddenly a gently pulsing heart-beat which seemed to appear from nowhere. It was a very controlled performance, with some very positive, driving violin playing from Nik Brown, and it seemed to cover a wide range of the different stylistic traits and fit them together absolutely convincingly.

Another case where the music's inherent forces spoke for themselves was in the first movement of the Telemann Concerto for 3 Violins. Rhythmic accuracy on the part of the players (and Telemann's orchestration) was the main reason for its musical sense, but this was reinforced by the changing solo violins' tones, from the strident dotted rhythms to the more sensitive lilting triplet rhythms.

The Back D Minor Concerto for 2 Violins was easily the most emotionally demanding work on the programme, if only because nearly every member of the audience would have had his own expectations of the piece (as well as probably mentally playing his favourite recording of it). The two outer movements suffered from occasional rhythmic uncertainty where orchestra and soloists (Ann MacMillan and Katherine Harris) on a couple of occasions almost left one another behind. But what was impressive about the performance was the meticulous detail paid to phrasing, and the articulation of notes, especially in the 2nd movement, where the accuracy was such that the 2 violins often sounded as one instrument (the ideal state). Similarly, there were other moments of tremendous rapport between the soloists and orchestra, which gave a general feeling of a totally integrated string sound.

In this, Peter Walls seemed to realise an important ideal in Baroque Concerto playing, which does not set the soloist aside from what is usually treated as the accompaniment in the orchestra, but rather regards the two as working completely together (it's just that one has a more demanding part to play than the other). I expect that this integration of sound came off so well in the concert largely because Peter Walls draws his soloists from within the group in all the pieces, and thus there is no particular differentiation of technical standard and style between soloist and orchestra.

On the whole there was fine, full-bodied string tone, and a brightness of approach and attack which made the concert really invigorating for the listener. The only problem which seemed to occur was in settling into the rhythm and tempo of some of the quick movements in the first half of the programme, although this improved as the players adjusted to the concert situation.

By way of a change from total string sound, Pam Gray, as Venus, sang a Purcell aria with the orchestra, as an encore. She was a coy and endearing Venus (though I suspect that had something to do with the very high range of the song), and would have had the swains and nymphs flocking to her, if it were all real!

This is the first formal concert given by the Baroque Players under the direction of Peter Walls, and the present standard promises some superb playing in later concerts Improvement is naturally forthcoming from a group like this, as they are young (there are 12 in the group altogether of which half are students), and none of them has reached his peak, musically, as yet.

What was also gratifying about this concert was that, despite the stupid shortsightedness of Musoc for putting the concert on the same night as a Symphony Orchestra Concert, the Music Room was packed, with almost 60 people in the audience. And for those who didn't hear the Baroque Players this time round, they are repeating the same programme on Sunday, July 18th, in Old St. Paul's.

—Kathleen Culliford