The Spike or Victoria University College Review 1935
We are Amused
Once again 1935 saw a Redmond Phillips Extravaganza. This year, however, it degenerated into a scramble and race to reach even mediocre form. The late start, the first-term vacation and the Town Hall, all were responsible; while the failure of people to turn up to re-hearsals, made the job almost impossible.
Redmond Phillips' manuscript was good and left little to be desired. His own acting was excellent but the show itself was poor. Thoroughly good scenes and situations flopped.
The plot (and a very good one) related the doings of Peccadillo, company-promoter, and his undoings at the hands of Alice, the Chartered Accountant, commissioned by the Government to report on the internal management of the Peccadillo Companies. Peccadillo flies to the Island of Framboises, to exploit the floor of the sea, but is frustrated by "that truly great social constellation," the leader of the mermaids, Mrs. PhloxGilliflower, daughter of Hon. Ineptune, M.L.C. As the author says, "Monapeds and bipeds, led by Peccadillo, become involved in a fierce fracas. (It was!). The play culminates in scenes of indescribable confusion. (It did!). Such message as it contains lies too deep for words."
Let's pick first, on the curate's egg parts. From Redmond Phillips' Peccadillo downwards, individual performances were good. Miss Peggy Spence Sales, as Alice, was very neat and efficient. Hugh Middlebrook, as Mrs. Phlox, was admirable. His bearing and grip held whole scenes from tumbling. King Tahiwi, as Toffee, was good and his song a gem. Reg. Larkin was divorced from his usual sprightliness in a diving-suit, but he gave the show a good twist and one hit in his "big scene" with Mrs. Phlox. McGhie as Ineptune was satisfactory.
The only good thing about the "yes-men" was the accent, and that was about all we heard. The rabble in Scene One was rescued by the addition of four young ladies, Misses Gallagher, Williams, Aldridge and Briggs, who brightened the most unholy mess, especially on the last night, when it was more rabblish than ever. The mermaids were good in ensemble and at least two, Jack Aimers as Lady Flyers and Malcolm Mason as the inevitable Mae West, were good in dialogue scenes. The cricketeers' song and dance was on right lines and gave the audience a real "honest-to-goodness" laugh.
Altogether individual efforts were good, but ensembles were depressing. The material was there and only sometimes the willingness to work, but stricter discipline and control could have improved the show. There is no need for fears for next year: it will probably be the raging success this one just missed being.
It was remarked that the most noteworthy feature of this year's procession was the crowd that watched it. Though the crowd was large, it is not saying much for the procession; unfortunately not a great deal can be said. It was the longest we have had for some years, but Its length was merely reminiscent of the Alexandrine, "which, like a wounded snake, drags its slow length along." Taking into account the two drawbacks with which every procession has to contend, namely, the lack of time for the pre-paration of the lorries, and the compliance with traffic rules, this year's was decidedly below standard. Apart from the fact that the head of the procession travelled too fast and the placards were too small to be read, very many obvious opportunities were missed, such as a bed for the quadruplets and the seating of the Gallstone children in serried ranks, while at the same time there seemed to be little evidence of the quips and wit which are traditionally associated with Varsity burlesque. The performance of individuals, especially the speechifying, was good, but it did not succeed in removing the impression of puerility from the procession as a whole—in fact, the effect was of individuality run riot.
To make a proper success of a procession, still more funds are needed and still greater preparation called for. The preparations should cover at least a month and their aim should be to give continuity to the whole turnout.page 43
We Eat and Drink
The Gymnasium groaned contentedly beneath the glamorous burden. When had it seen such times before?
And still they came! "Shiver my timbers and bust my sides," it thought, "how many more?"
At last, emulating the squad-drill of well-trained sardines, all were settled, and the supper met its customary fate. Intermittently speakers could be seen to rise and address the northern end of the assemblage, and as they relapsed the rafters invariably assisted with a cheering dash of re-echoing.
Toasts timely, hoary and heterodox passed their bibulous way. The plea for "the Building Fund" stirred the precincts to the depths of its joists. Mae West, the Ladies, the Haeremai Club, the Cafeteria, the Graduates, the Exec, Royalty and Professorialty—to everything we lent a partially attentive ear, only occasionally agog, but only occasionally bored.
Disillusioned with the "claret cup," but still more confirmed in the belief that this is one of the best functions of the year, we departed at last, leaving the Old Barn with something new to reflect on in its reminiscences until next year.
This, then, was the night. Undergraduate—graduand—soon that would be all over. He was preoccupied with wondering how it would feel to be at last among those whose fete this was to be, and did not even momentarily recall those nights, those months, those years of which this was the climax. He felt no glow of triumph, no overwhelming satisfaction. Yet strangely enough, though he had always taken that much for granted—that this moment's chief joy would rest upon reflection—he was unconcerned that it should not be so, and gave himself over calmly and entirely to the present.
Prelude of gowns and hoods (how do they hang?)—climbing of stairs—and then a devious passage through innumerable bouquets and chatterings to the appointed stand, there to be marshalled in inverse order—faculties reversed—alphabet deranged (what is this scheme?).
At last, in all its majesty, the procession moves. Is this the Hour? Almost the thrill of a triumphal march returning from afar to blazon Rome.
Hear the old refrains again, the professorial voices, and the rabble that do not cry for bread, but bring their own circuses with them. See on Olympus the hierarchy gowned; see before them the multitude drawn from the Seven Hills, and foremost among them the vestals bearing tribute to Minerva.
Was there a speaker? Two? What did we hear! Nought but a stirring of the air, the droning of a bee, the rustle of a neighbour's toga —with, at times, the tumult of the sea when gladiators clashed in the arena.
The formula! Hear it pronounced, not trippingly on the tongue, but like some doom of the Cumaean Sibyl. Up steps, find hand to shake, turn right, get bit of cardboard as you pass—and all is done! Laugh now at the hapless wretch with cabbage thrust upon him; at that one standing grimly in the dock while again the sacred formula is read; at the rabble draining their patience to the end; at all undergraduates, that strive so much—for this!
Now we depart again in formless ranks,
Into the serried mass that fills the hall.
Make merry! Laugh! prepare for gaiety!
For now the lecture-room may not recall.
Rejoice that prison bars are left behind,
That, after years of durance, you are free;
Or if (as I) you would those days again,
Temper your exile with philosophy.
Perhaps our Capping Ball was the brief moment of gaiety that precludes a Life of Endeavour, perhaps it signified the joyous culmination of a weary scramble of swot, perhaps it was just a good time—anyway it was fun. The galley-drivers of Rome, Torquemada, the Chinese executioners—these antique specialists in bigger and better tortures all might have learned a thing or two from the organisers of our Capping Ceremony. Perhaps their envious ghosts shivered with the rest of us that freezing night in our great echoing barn of a Town Hall, when the diploma-machinery creaked once again to spew forth another 150 bewildered new bachelors and masters and diplomats. And then came the fresh hour's nightmare on the photographer's rack. So we were dazed and sullen page 44 and a little petulant, that night before the Capping Ball began.
But when we reached the bright haven of St. Francis' Hall these clouds soon lifted. We gratefully shook off the mantle of befuddled academic earnestness. This was a festive time, and having due reason for celebration we rose to the occasions. The surroundings were just right. On entering the hall, you were greeted by an all-pervading gaiety that insinuated itself under your shirt-front and wriggled deliciously up and down your spine. It had caught the orchestra—or perhaps they were partly the cause of it—and everybody else there too—three hundred guests who were graduates and their favoured partners, and as many ordinary mortals as well —all shared it. The profoundest misanthrope would have admitted that these people were happy—that they were enjoying themselves in the way they liked best, with the people they liked best. The men were immaculate and gleaming, the girls glamorous and charming. The Ball became a most attractive spectacle, not through the mechanics of stiff social conformity, but because these were naturally attractive people, flushed with a happy and easy gaiety, and being themselves.
You could glissade to smooth and tuneful jazz over the slickest floor in Wellington. You looked up, and you saw gaily coloured lights, and you liked the solemnly blinking and revolving cellophane chandelier. You could sit on easy chairs on the balcony, and watch the endless weaving of the patterns of silks and stuffs that the dancers made below. You could pick out yourself, wearing a silly grin, on the flashlight that an enterprising photographer snapped at 11 and had developed by midnight. And you could talk, and perhaps say better and funnier things than you had said before.
Supper was tragically late and inadequate. But who cared? Nothing could impinge on the radiant aura of our gaiety that night. The tuneful jazz became slower and dreamier, and you began to feel young and sentimental, in a modern, hard-boiled way, of course. It was pleasingly the kind of Ball at which everybody danced with his own partner. And this you seemed to do more and more frequently as the Ball went on. And you liked it, and she liked it. And so the 1935 Capping Ball wore delightfully, happily, through beatific evening to marvellous morning.
(And perhaps it was perfectly epitomized when you turned to your partner and said: "Capping's been fun this year." And she said, "Because we were capped," and her eyes and mouth smiled her sweet smile.)