Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria University, Wellington N.Z. Vol. 22, No. 5. June 8, 1959
Reviews... — On Stage—in Retrospect
On Stage—in Retrospect
During recent weeks the town has been buzzing with activity, but we feel that there was much of value and even more deserving of comment, and so below we publish our critics' observations on a few productions.
All praise to the N.Z. Players, J. C. Williamson, and the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust for allowing us to see an Australian professional company perform in Ray Lawler's "Summer of the Seventeenth Doll." It was well worth waiting for.
The plot is simple. Two cane-cutters have, for 16 years been coming down from Queensland during the lay-off season to spend it with two barmaids in a suburb of Melbourne. They work hard for seven months of the year, and then spend five months with their unmarried wives, Olive and Nancy. The curtain rises on a drab room, brightened by 16 kempie dolls. Olive is getting ready for the boys to arrive. But instead of Nancy, who has got married, there is another barmaid Pearl, dressed in her "best black" with a string of pearls.
The men, Roo and Barney, arrive and at once we know that something is wrong, and slowly and agonizing the whole truth comes out during the play. Barney, the great lover, has found that the fascination he had over women has vanished. Roo, the muscular gang-leader up in the North, has grey hair and has begun to weaken. Pearl, with all her airs of respectability, hopes to capture Barney as a husband, Olive, the simple and lovable Olive, wants all the wonderful times of the 16 years to go on forever. The tale is told with such compassion and humour that the characters become achingly alive. Lawler has a wonderful eye for character, and his humour arises mainly out of the contrasts among the characters. He has the knack of switching suddenly from comedy to tragedy that leaves one feeling that one day Chechov may have a rival.
If you missed the play make sure you see the film, just for Ethel Gabriel's performance of Emma, the grouchy old mother with a heart of gold. The rest of the cast were all good, though Roma Johnston as Pearl was close to stealing the whole play. It is a tribute to her to say that she didn't. All in all a wonderful evening in the theatre—with a cast that could act as a team, a producer that knew what he wanted and with the ability to get it, and, above all, a very fine play, not only about Australians, but about all of us.
Playboy of the Western World
If I am unable to see or hear most of a play I get angry. If I am forced to give up a good seat in the circle to sit in a drafty seat at the back of the stalls I get angrier. So you will appreciate the fact that I did not enjoy the C.A.S. production of Synge's "Playboy of the Western World." The setting, which was designed to "liberate" the words (from what?), reminded me of a dilapidated coffee-bar, which has all the trimmings, fishing nets and unvarnished wood, save the coffee machine. What merit the production might have had was lost on me. The play was, despite the poor acting and set, as Synge wrote it.
At first I thought the director, Ronald Barker, was producing unusual plays and doing them in unventional styles to stimulate an interest in the theatre. But I very much doubt if he will get an interested and caring public by too many unconventional methods of production which lack artistry. There comes a time when being unconventional for the sake of being unconventional in the theatre becomes a bore.
Repertory's "The Desperate Hours"
Joseph Hayes's 'The Desperate Hours" starts by showing us an ordinary American suburban household. The family leave for the office and school. Mrs Milliard is left to wash the breakfast dishes and to do the housework. Another ordinary day. Then, wham! Their whole world is upside down. Three escaped convicts have picked the Milliard's house to hide in until the leader, Glen Griffin, has paid off an old debt with a local cop, and until he receives some money. The family is caught in this terrible web of fear and desperation. The play switches from the house to the police station, back and forth as the situation grows worse and as the police start slowly to gather clues and move in.
But where was the desperation that should have been felt all over the theatre? This is a good thriller and it was given a good production, except for this main lack of feeling of danger and desperation. The American accents were poor and often forgotten. Wouldn't it have been better to have let the accents be the actors' normal voices?
The setting was excellent, and, for once, it deserved the applause that Repertory audiences always accord their scene designers whether the setting is good or indifferent.