Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 28, No. 11. 1965.
Arts Festival Drama: Standard Varied
Arts Festival Drama: Standard Varied
The Trojan Women
Waikato University tackled Euripides' The Trojan Women in a production which rather complimented their courage than their skill. Talent at a small university is likely to be scarce and, in a production of this size, thinly spread, so that even modest success is cause for congratulation.
And it may be said in their favour that tragedy did not become farce, and there were moments in which we could forget the production and attend properly to the play. Maybe Greek tragedy does require stylisation and declamation; but these modes have no intrinsic good, and when they exist uninformed by intelligence and untempered by discretion, the play, and the audience's interest, goes into a decline.
Thus my chief objection to Hecube (Pauline Fordyce) was that clarity of thought and form were smothered in ululation. She began and ended on the same excruciating pitch, leaving no room for development and precious little for admiration.
Her faults were, alas, widely shared; but in addition to these there were two specific problems which the production failed to solve—staging and the chorus. Visually the whole thing was uninteresting. If the producer had dispensed with his imitation Parthenon and replaced it with a high series of rostra across the back of the stage, he could have given the Greeks menacing height and separatedness, given the women more levels to act on, and enhanced the feeling of their captivity.
The chorus was large, and manoeuvred like a cavalry regiment, filing, rising, descending, and lamenting in unison. Some of its speeches were divided amongst its members, but on the whole it did not escape a too rigid uniformity, nor interact successfully with the other characters.
Next Time I'll Sing To You
Otago University produced Next Time I'll Sing To You by a young English playwright. James Saunders. Clever lighting introduced us by degrees to an arrangement of angled and inclined rostra in the centre of the stage. These the actors used for a platform for their debate—witty, vicious, filled with double takes, attacking each other and the audience.
They were all more than competent, and if they did not create characters but merely lent voices, one feels that the fault was the playwright's rather than theirs, for this was not like the tearing quarrel between the nurse and the intern in The Death Of Bessie Smith where illumination came from mutual destruction. Rather Saunders found an interesting situation, provided four characters to dissect it, granted them eloquence, and set them somewhat gratuitously to work.
Bunglers of the theatre of the absurd are likely to find that they have achieved the ridiculous: so, a little sheepishly, the cast of Auckland's production of The Executioners pulled a bunny, instead of a tiger, out of the hat. I suspect that the play could have been horrifying—but without our generous imagination and critical somnolence, this presentation startled only by ineptitude. Intense drama may take place on a bare stage, but proficient actors are required.
Here we had all the bareness and none of the skill. Characters were stiff: the two boys jerked into action like puppets when they spoke, and stopped in mid-giggle when their speeches came to an end; the mother dispensed with gesture, and her voice, though more audible than her two sons', adopted regular staccato patterns, like a fugue for solo typewriter.
The prompt had the best voice— and a corresponding part. The production was not aided by its minor eccentricities. Why, for example, should a boy whose shorts demonstrated extreme youth be sporting a beard?
The Death of Bessie Smith
The cats in Albee's The Death of Bessie Smith did not have to overcome an awkward translation, but theirs was a vastly more workmanlike production. Actors were experienced, dramatic clashes were dramatic and, of a consequence, the audience was caught up in sympathy with the playwright, rather than for the players.
Judy Cleine, as the first nurse, sharing prejudices she denounced, gave an excellent performance. Her accent (the American South) was as good as any and better than not a few; voice, posture and gesture all transmitted bitterness, even if, in the case of voice, sometimes not far beyond the first row.
Rhys Jones, the intern, with whom she had the most vicious exchanges in the play, had a louder voice, not as good an accent, and a cynicism that was a model for the world-weary.
On Baile Strand
Auckland University did On Baile Strand. The heady Yeatsian vision of fools, blind beggars and kings was superbly produced. Costumes were appropriate and frequently magnificent. Movement combined the patterned formality of epic with the natural. The set was plain—just a room in a dwelling—but, with the sensitive control of gloom and stronger light could become a stage for legend, fusing past with present before the Fool's eyes.
Voices were resonant and powerful, particularly Chuchulain's (Michael Noonan) who provided an example of intelligent declamation that Waikato University might well have noted. The epic tone was sustained without loss of dignity, vigour or sense.