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The Spike or Victoria University College Review 1934

Folly as it Flies

page 55

Folly as it Flies

"Thou little thinkest what a little foolery governs the world"

—Motto of the pre-War Extravganza Programme

It would seem to be as difficult to justify the annual Extravaganza of Victoria University College as it is to justify many other things that human creatures do. The institution existed in the "goodoldays" before the lifeline of the College was broken by an extravaganza of another sort conducted overseas. According to tradition, the Extravaganza began as an entertainment for the graduates of the year. The procession that preceded it was intended partly to inform the public that Capping was a time of carnival and partly to advertise the Extravaganza (advertising in the newspaper press was not thought of in a time when the College was regarded as a means of education). Later, when College clubs depended for their support upon those who used them, the Students' Association looked to the Extravaganza to provide the means of satisfying its modest financial requirements. In the Tammany times of the early twenties, College politicians of the authoritarian school at one stroke made student officialdom independent of the favour of the individual by persuading Authority to introduce that minor form of conscription known as the Students' Association Fee; and immediately both Procession and Extravaganza lost whatever meaning remained to them. The Extravaganza lingered on until 1924, then died. 1929 saw its resuscitation as a student revel, but mainly (as the disposal of the profits showed) to sate the appetite which the easy money of the inclusive fee had engendered in the sports clubs, particularly the Football Club, which at the time was dizzy with unaccustomcd victory. A determined effort by W. P. Rollings and other valiants to have the profits of the 1929 show earmarked for the purposes of a new student building was defeated; and the objective which would have given reason to the annual lapse remained in abeyance until 1934, when Carl Watson and Reg. Larkin somehow or other managed to have the profits of the Capping programme appropriated to reserve. Whether this policy is to harden or not depends upon the ability of the present and future Executives to prefer the interests of the College as a permanent institution to purely inflationary tendencies apparent among the Clubs. But some such policy appears to be necessary if the Extravaganza is to be more than an annual skylark.

Much air has passed under the fuselage of this same skylark since Mr. F. A. de la Mare (the "father of the Extravaganza") wrote his excellent account for the Jubilee Spike of 1924. The bird has been going down instead of up, and its singing has become less. The flight record from somewhere about the time at which Mr. de la Mare's record leaves off is as follows:—
  • 1921.— "Done to Death," by W. E. Leicester and C. Q. Pope (Vryn Evans, producer).
  • 1922—"Struth," by P. B. Broad (Vryn Evans, producer).
  • 1923—"Luv," by N. A. Byrne (Mr. Theodore Tresize, producer).
  • 1924—"Pep," by N. A. Byrne (Mr. Theodore Tresize, producer).
  • 1925-1928-Years of grace.
  • 1929—"G.G.," by P. Hohepa Emihi and D. J. Donald (Vryn Evans, producer).
  • 1930.—"Kyd," by the same authors (Vryn Evans, producer).
  • 1931—"Willum the Conk," by L. G. Donald (Don Priestley, producer).
  • 1932—Revue:
  • "Dry Rot," by C. G. Watson (D. G. Edwards, producer). "Souled," by A. Hellion (W. J. Mountjoy, jnr., producer).
  • "Coax and Hoax," by R. B. Phillips (W. J. Mountjoy, producer).
  • 1933 Revue,—"Three Sheets in the Wind": "The Gully Trap," by R. B. Phillips
  • (D. G. Edwards, producer).page 56
  • "Great Caesar!" by Spurius Denarius (Don Priestley, producer).
  • "Mr. Galahad," by R. B. Phillips (W. J. Mountjoy, producer).
  • 1934—"Cappicade":
  • "Sheba," by N. Z. Goodz (Don Priestley, producer).
  • "Murder in the Common Room," by R. B. Phillips (Miss D. Tossman, producer).
  • "Medea and Soda," by R. B. Phillips (W. J. Mountjoy, producer).

The comedy, "Just As You Say, Dear," presented in the second term of 1926, is not included in the list because it was the work of a stranger to Victoria College, Mr. G. H. R. Young. Mr. Young afterwards staged the play in London, with what success is not known.

Pre-War Extravaganzas are collected in a book in the Library, entitled "Capping Songs." A similar title could not be given to a volume of post-War shows, even if the changes in the form of the programme were a convenience to binding. Such songs as are good in these shows have very little connection with Capping or College. As a matter of fact, songs have largely given way to dialogue, which is a much easier thing to write. The Gilbert and Sullivan tradition of the old Extravaganza is dead. The Hollywood plague has something to do with this, but the weight of responsibility surely lies in the fact that Capping plays are now left to individual authorship. A run-through the volume of "Capping Songs" already mentioned shows that formerly an Extravaganza was the composition of a committee, each member of which contributed according to his or her peculiar talent. The co-operative method probably ensured that a College show fairly represented the student point of view, but it must certainly have been a better guarantee of a perpetual succession of Extravaganzas than the present device of individual authorship, which is likely to leave the Students" Association high and dry one of these fine Capping days.

I cannot speak disinterestedly of all the Extraveganzas I have listed. "Done to Death" I saw from the inside. Mr. Harcus Plimmer said in the "Dominion" that the performance was obvisouly intended for the enjoyment of the participants. "A good time was had by everyone," certainly, but the glitter and the melody of the thing seemed to be adequate to the public taste, for the box office receipts were substantial. So were those, in the following year, of "Struth," a Wheeler and Woolsey show (I think it might so be called) written by a returned soldier in an ecstacy of disillusionment. Two toughs were in the stocks when the curtain went up and were back there when it finally went down, but this time they were laughing uproariously at what their answer was likely to be if they were asked to go to a war again. "Luv" and "Pep" were ventures into the purely spectacular under the sponsorship of a producer from outside the College. They were undoubtedly good of their kind, but it wasn't the College kind. With "Pep," moreover, the Extravaganza became divorced from Capping time; and that was the end of the chapter.

In 1929 a move in the direction of the old tradition was made by presenting "G.G." in the Town Hall without scenery of any sort. The very fine songs of D. J. Donald, the music of W. H. (Jimmy) Stainton, the co-operation of such old-timers (comparatively speaking) as the experienced Miss Marie Richmond and Mrs. W. H. Stainton, and new—timers such as A. E. Campbell and A. C. Keys, the tightfistedness of the business managers (A. H. Ivory and J. H. Dunn), and the general enthusiasm of the College over the revival, all helped to make a record success. Perhaps the fact that the depression had not yet begun explained some of the success. "Kyd," written under difficulties, was produced in the Town Hall in the following year, but lacked the spontaneity of "G.G." and was not as successful. "Willum the Conk," by the young brother of D. J. Donald, suffered from the inexperience of the author, and in any case received the full impact of the bad times. In 1932 the Executive decided to try the Revue type of entertainment (which was understood as meaning three short plays). The revues of the past three years are too recent in memory to say much about beyond that they were as successful as the times would permit. Their distinctive feature has been the emergence from some "dim Arcadian pasture" of that bewildering youngster, Redmond B. Phillips (who can write good stuff and bad stuff with equal facility). His high-water mark so far is his "Murder in the Common Room" of this year's "Cappicade" (as the Extravaganza is now called). page 57 Should Redmond ("An Irishman, I presume," as Queen Victoria once said) maintain his "Common Room" standard and make fewer concessions to certain superstitions about popular taste, he will write the best show of the current phase. It is anticipated that he will offer a complete "Cappicade" next year.

No record of the modern Extravaganza is complete without mention of the veteran Vryn Evans, who was active in College shows before our period, and during the period has taken the lion's share of the work of producing. He and Jim Stainton (composer of haunting airs and conductor par excellence) have probably done more than any others to help the Extravaganza along. Vryn's capable successor is W. J. Mountjoy, junior (who has yet, however, to free himself of conventional notions derived from a study of professional leg-shows). Producers to the fingertips are Doug. Edwards and Miss Dorothea Tossman, whose big jobs (if they want them) are to come. The mention of these College products is a conclusive reply to any suggestion that the College need ever again seek outside its boundaries for an efficient producer.

A word as to the programme, which appears to be going through a trial and error process. From being a dignified record of College songs and a repository of weird quotations, it has become a comic paper of doubtful virtue. But a growing realisation of its possibilities as an article of sale apart from the show bids fair to make it in time a serious (or un-serious) competitor of Spike and Smad. The prospect is not alarming if every programme sold means a brick for the new student building. If the programme should, however, attract bricks with another aim. . . .

The question of justification raised at the beginning of these fragments had reference to the Extravaganza as a purposive effort. From this point of view it is only a play, mere folly, of little benefit personally, involving an expenditure of time and effort out of all proportion to the few hours' amusement given, interfering (although not necessarily) with study. If, on the other hand, it be regarded as an opportunity for students for association with one another (which, as we are often told, is essential to the idea of a University), it is seen to hold its own against any other incident of the student life and, good or bad, wise or foolish, needs no further justification.

P. J. Smith.