The Spike: or, Victoria College Review, October 1909
On Capping Plays
On Capping Plays.
In the making of Capping extravaganzas, plays, sketches, comic operas or pantomimes,—as your fancy pleases—either of two ideals may be aimed at. Perhaps it would be more connect to say that there is one ideal and one apology. So far Victoria College has suffered both and from the popular view point and the apology has been the more successful.
The ideal sometimes aimed at in prior years, was that of producing a play, sketch, comic opera, burlesque, musical comedy, comedietta, or extravaganza, which aspired to the literary while seeking popularity. There were "Munchums" of happy memory, and "The Golden Calf." Before that we had suffered "Komicalities"—A.G. Quartley in weird disguises, Tustin as Old Necessity or Willis with unmanageable tricycle and whiskers. The very recollections move us to laughter. And since all these there has been "Shackleton Out-Shacked" which seemed more popular than them all.
But to our point. In the Spike of a year ago, where appeared an article on "The Literature Of Capping Carnivals" by one F.A.M. the most insistent note in that worthy articles was the call for "unity" in Capping extravaganzas. In "Munchums" and "The Golden Calf" this unity was, two most, more ideal than apparent. The desire for a more appreciable unity laid top the writing of "South Sea Bubbles." It was a desire to have something resembling a plot working its way through out, a desire to reinstate the idea of burlesquing notabilities, and with these, a desire to retain the dramatic and to retain the idea of a musical extravaganza sung chiefly by the students en masse. "South Sea Bubbles" was a comparative failure. Perhaps it was too ambitious; certainly three rehearsals are hardly sufficient for the most amateur performance, even for a students' carnival; and moreover a student who has previously during the evening laid in Maori hakas and glees, can hardly be expected to take the heaviest part in the extravaganza. But he did.
But by this time the students had become wearied of the striving after a literary ideal. There had sprung within their souls a yearning for something more boisterous; a harlequinade, may be, where the clown always makes his entrance with a "Slap bang here we are again!" and the comic policemen is page 79 knocked down by the harlequins; and the old lady with the orange stall complains vainly of the free distribution of her oranges; and where a call for the fire brigade brings in a troop of elephants; and a butcher's shop always displays a string of sausages for the clown's decoration. Possibly the yearning had not expressed itself in this form, but a change was imperative and it came. Its name was "Shackleton Out-Shackled."
"Shackleton Out-Shackled" arrived under unusually auspicious circumstances: Lieutenant Shackleton's antarctic expedition was still fresh in the memory, and was a theme whose interest extended for beyond the College world; the play had been well advertised, but secrecy had been preserved; student had obtained and inkling of its contents, but only sufficient to incite their curiosity; also it was sufficiently rehearsed, a most unusual innovation as far as concerns capping plays; and it was well mounted—the motor car was a stroke of genius. The result was that when it did arrive it could hardly avoid success. The idea underlying the play was that it should be primarily a burlesque, but that it should have a connected plot running through it. It was written with one object—to provide entertainment for the audience. There was no aiming after literary ideals and no straining "that which is the crowning mark of good work in literature, the 'atmosphere.' "There was nothing more than a desire to amuse, to cause laughter; the authors intended to create situations which would be foolish; clever, also where possible, but always laughable. That they succeeded in undoubted. As embodying the spirit of a students' carnival, 'Shackleton Out-Shackled" was excellent. Perhaps it typifies what carnival plays will be in the further. For a year or two at least—provided that in the mean time the source of wit do not run dry—it seems that a burlesque of this type should be presented. But it is to be hoped that there will be an occasional respite and that there will be sometime a reversion to the "Munchums" type.
An ideal such as a fixed basis on which to rest all capping literature seems impossible and is not altogether desirable. It is of the essence of Carnivals that they should contain novelty, that the unexpected should happen; and, more often than not, it does.