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Salient. Victoria University of Wellington Students' Newspaper. Volume 32, No. 19. August 6, 1969

Drama — Facile Pessimism

page 11

Drama

Facile Pessimism

You may have heard this play called "intelligent", "brainy" or "intellectual" or something of the sort, a description which often indicates a narrow situation so worked over that most of the audience feel they must have missed at least half the message. But there is nothing really unfamiliar about John Bowen's pessimistic view of future society in After the Rain.

The play is adapted from the novel which tells a science fiction parable about a Second Flood of 1972 from which survive a motley crew aboard a raft. These include a brainless sailor navigating round the world to demonstrate that "Club is a complete food", an accountant with a will to power (Arthur), a writer masquerading as a cook (Armitage), a broad-church cleric, a muscle man, a lunatic and three women. As they drift and wait for the waters to go down they enact among themselves a sort of capsule version of political and religious history, with the accountant first assuming autocratic control and then moving from president to God.

This is the scheme of the play too, but after a substantial lip from Marat/Sade there is a chance in the construction from realism to a lecture/demonstration. The play is set in 2170AD when the audience is being lectured on History of the Community. As in Marat/Sade a moment in history is acted out by lunatic/convicts who are here guilty of such aberrations as individualism, pessimism, frivolity and fantasy-weaving. The performance is part of the therapy in which by acting out their fantasies they may be restored to mental health and conformity.

The illustrated lecture technique has certain advantages. There is an acceptable convention for the unrealistic setting of the raft scenes and for the lecturer to direct quick scene changes. But it cannot avoid shifting the emphasis (or at least severely weakening it) from the parable being dramatically enacted to the lecture situation which should not be the real focus of the play. It becomes the focus at the end when the actor playing Arthur refuses to be "killed" and determines to alter history. This is an ingenious twist to suggest something profound about the past, the future and human nature as one unalterable element in destiny, but a neat flourish at the end will not cover up earlier deficiencies. One feels that all the questions have already been matched to the answers, not only by the lecturer but by the author as well; and this unfortunately lets Mr Brown out of some necessary work. In particular, there are two questions which craved fuller treatment; what was there about Arthur to make him chief? Why did Armitage not challenge him more intelligently?

I am particularly unhappy about the Arthur/Armitage relationship. It would seem that Armitage's main function is to show the impotence of liberalism when faced with totalitarianism. Are all liberal artists gutless incompetents when faced with an opportunity to obstruct with purpose or create a practical system? The closest hint of challenge came when Armitage suggested a deputy president. Both Armitage and Mr Bowen back down too soon whenever there is a chance of a revealing confrontation.

It was mentioned earlier that the theme should not be strange to us. There are clear echoes of at least The Shape of Things to Come, Lord of the Flies, Brave New World, 1984, Fahrenheit 451 and Marat/Sade. The play owes a good deal to these and has also inherited their facile pessimism.

The acting was not outstanding but was nevertheless quite adequate. Richard Perrott as Arthur used a strong voice in a rather monotonous staccato style which was the basis of an authoritative stage presence. Chris Cottingham was even feebler than Armitage might have been but such laughs as there were came from his moments of characterisation. The group raft scenes in rough seas and during the squid episode were imaginatively directed and all nine of the main actors gave a cohesive performance at such times. Of the smaller parts, Geraldine Whyte gave a finely affected voice to the actress. Rod Jenkins maintained a good straight part as the lecturer.

The producer Pamela Hewes has here a clean-cut and effective performance which definitely deserves better houses than it has been getting.

Photo of Arthur from the Downstage production 'Tango'

Because he has grown up amid moral permissiveness run riot, Arthur, the young anti-hero of "Tango", the next Downstage production, finds life "nothing but a brothel where anything goes and nothing works". This latter-day Hamlet feels that he is born to put it right be is himself destroyed in the attempt. Slawomir Mrozek, the author of Tango", has written a parable for the times in this brilliant, savagely funny play, hwcih has been acclaimed all over the world.

The Downstage production, directed by Nola Millar and designed by Grant Tilly, opens at the Star Boating Club on Wednesday August 13.

The plum part of the son has fallen to John Banas who recently appeared in "All's Well that Ends Well" and the revival of "The Zoo Story". Fresh from his success as Pierre in the New Theatre's "War and Peace", Ian Watkin, plays the father of the boy, and Nancy krinkel his mother. Ginette Lewis and Lewis Rowe stepped straight from the boards of "Rosencrants and Guildenstern are Dead" into rehearsals for "Tango". They represent the oldest generation who won their own Bohemian spurs by dancing the tango and thus defying all conventions in hteir day. Peter Sim complete the cast at the neo-Fascist butler who wrests supreme power when Arthur falls.

Terence Taylor's photo shows John Bands as Arthur and Ginette McDonald as Ala.