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The Spike [or Victoria University College Review 1954]



What might be called the "modern phase" of Extravaganza began in 1932 with the introduction of Redmond Phillip's scripts, some of which are still preserved in the records. The dialogue now seems somewhat stilted and formal, but the songs are beginning to evolve into the type used today.. Songs such as "Karitane Blues" from "Medea and Soda" (1934) show this trend.

Although the early Phillip's shows gave a fillip to Extravaganza prestige, a real collapse occurred in 1935 with the production of "Peccadillo". This was presented in the main Town Hall, which made things difficult enough, but on top of this the script was not finished until practically the opening night. As would be expected, the show was not a success and the outlook for next year looked gloomy, to say the least.

However, as sometimes happens, the miracle occurred, and next year (1936) two first class scripts were submitted, one by P. J. Smith, a veteran script writer, entitled "Hell's Bells", a thirty minute show, and one by a student who as page 20 yet had not been heard of in Extravaganza circles-Ron Meek. The two scripts were both short productions linked by one of John Carrad's inimitable fifteen minute reviews, "Intermission in Eternity". Ron Meek's contribution was "Brave New Zealand", a remarkably witty satire of Aldous Huxley's "Brave New Work! It was an audacious theme to select but was eminently successful and much of the credit here is due to the excellent production by the late W. J. Mountjoy, Jnr.

Nineteen thirty-six marked the beginning of a definite period in Extravaganza history which lasted some years. The satire, the musical interlude, and the Extravaganza appeared to be well established as the years went on. The satire was generally produced by the Drama Club during this period and remained so until replaced by the full length show we know today. After 1936 another combination, "the Seven Pillars of Wisdom," replaced Mr. Smith as writers of satire and produced some excellent efforts, culminating with the extremely successful "Book of Bob" in 1937. After the success of the 1936 production, the Executive of the time decided to lay down a scheme for posterity. The show was to consist of:—
(a) Opening chorus and spectacle 5 min.
(b) Men's ballet 5 min.
(c) Interlude 12 min.
(d) Main show 50 min.
1hr. 12 min.

Strong objection was taken to this rather dictatorial attitude and produced a long letter by Ron Meek to the now defunct Smad (predecessor of Salien: who strongly criticised this unusual programme arrangement. His idea was:—

(a) Satire 45 min.
(b) Interlude and men's ballet 15 min.
(c) Extravaganza 70 min.
2hr. 10 min.

Apparently people did not mind coming out late in 1937. Perhaps the transport service was better.

The final paragraph of Ron Meek's letter is worth quoting: "In conclusion I would recommend that the Executive consider the abolition of prize money awarded to the successful authors. The incentive given is very small and Extrav. writers should need no recompense for their months of labour other than the knowledge that the whole show has been appreciated by the public and has done a little at least to cement relations between the 'Varsity and the outside world." This is good advice for any Executive.

Until the beginning of World War II, Extravaganza retained the general form indicated above. This period was remarkable for the fact that both the main scripts were of very high standard, supported by first class popular original music from John Carrad—such catchy tunes as "Rollo the Ravaging Roman" for instance.

Nineteen forty brought the first changes in form. "Centennial Scandals" was a much longer show than any of the previous Meek productions—the satire page 21 fades from the stage leaving an introductory review followed by the main show. During this year Ron Meek left Wellington and the nineteen forty-one show reverted to two sections, the main show being "The Sky's the Limit"', which was written by a team composed largely of Tramping Club members. It turned out quite a surprisingly good show, containing as it did quite a few "traditional" airs. It was not easy to put on a show in those days of shortages, and credit is due to the efforts of the wardrobe mistress, Doris Williamson, who made practically all the costumes single-handed without the aid of an electric sewing machine or a wardrobe room.

The following year marked the Year of the Great Extravaganza Crisis. The Executive was very sharply divided as to whether a show should be put on or not. After probably one of the bitterest Executive meetings on record, when tempers were more than frayed and many hard words said, it was decided not to proceed with a full-scale production. However, in spite of opposition, a compromise was reached and a small-scale Extravaganza staged in the Lower Gymnasium. After this effort, Extravaganza definitely went into recess.

In 1944 Ron Meek was back again in collaboration with W. S. Bland of Hamilton with the "Zealous Zombies" based on an inspiration from Boris Karloff and Universal-International. Ron Meek appeared to have a flair for picking out unusual themes which apparently has not occurred again in later Extravaganzas. Here again is the full-length Extravaganza, this time to stay. "Zealous Zombies" consisted of a prologue and three acts. Also, scenery and costuming were becoming more elaborate and a new form of Extravaganza was being evolved. In 1945 Meek produced what is considered by many to be his best effort—"Peter in Blunderland"—with apologies to Lewis Carroll. The lead was taken by Dennis Hartley, a born comedian with a stage sense unusual in Extravaganza casts, who contributed greatly to the success of this production. The "House Full" sign had considerable use during the season. Later in the year the complete production was taken to Palmerston North in aid of the Patriotic Funds. This was a great success and the difficult task of transporting about 150 people together with properties and wardrobe was achieved sucessfully thanks to the ready co-operation of the City Council and the then Mayor, Mr. T. Mansford.

It is interesting to note that "Peter in Blunderland" was completed long before rehearsals were due to commence. Staging and lighting were worked out well beforehand and the whole show went together with an ease and smoothness which has never again been repeated.

This was the last of the Meek shows but his influence lingered on for many years and is noticeable in "Peter Pansy" and, to some extent, in "Vot-thu-Halla" in 1948 which even included a photograph of Ron Meek as he appeared as the Devil in "The Plutocrats" of 1937.. During this period great dit should be given to Dave Cohen, who was a pillar of strength on the production and script. "Vot-thu-Halla" also introduced Jeff Stewart as a song and script writer with Jean Melling who had been actively associated with Extravaganza for some years. This was another successful show and shares the honours with "Peter in Blunderland" as being the only other show to go on tour, this time to Napier. This needed even greater organization as the whole cast was transported by trucks. At the present moment it seems very unlikely that further tours will be contemplated.

page 22

The single show now incorporated, or attempts to incorporate, all parts of the three-show system. Later shows have not reached the high standard that characterized the efforts of the "Seven Pillars of Wisdom" or Ron Meek, but it should be recognized that the public taste has also changed. Burlesque appears to be preferred to satire, which was shown to be the case in the successful 1954 production of "The Pirates of Finance".

In this brief review it has been impossible to mention all the shows or all the people who have given so much of their time and effort. Some say, "Is is worth while?" The only answer is to try your self and you will find it to be one of the most satisfying events of the student year.

H. Williamson