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The Spike: or, Victoria University College Review, June 1929

Boys Who Have Become Famous

page 33

Boys Who Have Become Famous

Thomas Gray, in a poem which authority assures us is a Pindaric Ode, tells how a rare species of Bard sat on the summit of an inaccessible rock on "Snowden's shaggy side" and uttered

". . . sounds that o'er the crested pride
Of the first Edward scattered wild dismay."

Before terminating his career by means of a spectacular dive such as could be taken only from a Welsh mountain height, the venerable old gentleman predicted dire misfortune for this Edward person and his race, who would in due course be supplanted by royalty of Welsh extraction. The prophetic spotlight unhappily did not penetrate the mists of futurity in this impressive ode the good old Cymric name, as familiar as it is dear to as far as our own time, else we should have been overjoyed to encounter us of Victoria University College, of Vryn Evans. No wonder that Gray's ode has an air of incompleteness about it. Nevertheless, we deem it no inconsiderable tribute to the name and fame of our hero that the completed prophecy must of necessity have made considerable mention of him.

We are so unfortunate as to be entirely unacquainted with the Welsh tongue, but we have no hesitation in asserting that the word "Vryn" cannot bear any other meaning than "great." Great Evans! What else could the word signify unless (if we are to defer to philologists of almost equal authority) it be held to mean "good." Good Evans!—a pleasing and appropriate interpretation, no doubt, but barely acceptable in these times, when people desire to be great rather than good. Our preference receives illustration from an apocrypha! incident in the early career of our hero, feelingly recounted by Mr. Culford Bell, an instructor in the Art of Elocution. It appears that our hero approached this gentleman for the purpose of securing the final touches which, to his diffident soul, his command of histrionics seemed to require. No sooner, however, had this favoured preceptor heard Mr. Evans enunciate the classic line—

"Uh hawss, uh hawss. muh kingdum faw uh hawss!"—

than he was overcome by a feeling of profound abasement and, casting: himself down before his intended pupil he murmured in broken tones: "Master!" ....... . Aye, master! Such is the genius which Mr. Evans infuses into his art, that the significance of his lightest word is immeasurably richer than that which any dictionary might" assign to it. The lurid effects which simple-minded persons attempt by means of profanity, Mr. Evans, through the perfection of his art, obtains by means of words that the most delicate-minded curate would not hesitate to use at a meeting of the Maiden Aunts' Morality Guild. Indeed, it is related that a whole chorus has been known to react so violently to the sound of his mere whistle as to require repowdering.

For a time it was thought that Mr. Evans, responding to some Byronic chord within him, would take a part in the regeneration of Italy. His famous Plunket Medal speeches on the Italian heroes, Garibaldi, Vermicilli, and Pixie Uno, no doubt gave rise to the expectation. The heart of our hero was not to be weaned, however, from the love of the land whose moun page 34 tains reminded him of the home of his fathers, and in due course he occupied himself with the invigoration of the amateur stage in New Zealand. Mr. Evans's characteristic modesty would lead him to deny that the current amateur enthusiasm for the Thespian art was largely due to his inspiring example of the degree to which this art could he developed by part-time study. For, let it be noted, our hero did not not allow his dilletantic efforts to distract him from his fixed determination to lay bare the fundamentals of our social arrangements. At the conclusion, however, of the day's work proper. Economics being laid aside, he

"Roused the house to laughter, or brought forth the silent tear.

And made enthusiastic gods vociferously cheer."

Yes, "those were the days, the palmy days, of histrionic art." Never had such acting been seen in New Zealand before. Who can forget the thrill that passed through one as the lithe figure of our Roscius darted from the wings? "Marry muh! Marry muh, or be muh wife!" he would cry. And the silly heroine's answer, "Nevah, villain, nevah!—not though yah gave muh uh sealskin Chrysler," would leave one uncertain whether to laugh or to cry, so balanced was the appeal of the player and the play. In Mr. Evans's hands—mouth, perhaps we should write—villainy became a thing of sweetness and of light.

It is not in the nature of him who can soar to stand still. As did Hugh J. Ward. Allan Wilkie, Oscar Asche, and famous others before him, our hero determined to proceed from acting to producing. After the intimate acquaintance he had gained with the meaning of such complicated technical expressions as "upstage," "downstage," "footlights," "Spotlights," "electric lights," "nose paint," "barn storming," "cues," and many others most bewildering to the uninitiate, it would have been a pity had he not presented the world with the fruits of his experience. And to the struggling Extravaganza tradition of Victoria University College it would have spelled calamity. In his heart of hearts, although wild horses could not have dragged the admission from him, Mr. Evans knew that a V.U.C. Extravaganza could not be other than a "dud show." A shining example of what is known as the College Spirit, Mr. Evans has valiantly co-operated in concealing this characteristic of the show from the public; through his untiring zeal and superhuman skill, the Extravaganza has time and again been saved from itself. In the art of transmitting the dross of commonplace into the pure gold of a paying proposition, our hero has had no equal at V.U.C. Load the gun with shavings and sawdust, an you will; he will make it pop like a Big Bertha. Learn your parts overnight, and lo! before the finger-prints are dry on your script, you are on the boards, with a simple-minded public swallowing a dress-rehearsal in the belief that it is the finished thing. Could any but Mr. Evans do this? In the words of the famous ditty— could Lloyd George do it?

In a corner of the College grounds—here in our common clay—a little shrub struggles up to meet the light. In appearance it is extremely classical. Some say it is laurel; other say it is bay. The science students pour all sorts of decoctions about its roots in an endeavour to accelerate its growth. In the fulness of time it will produce leaves sufficient for the purpose of decking somebody's cranium. Whose? Oh. Mighty Mummer! Oh. Peerless Producer! Dare we say?