Salient. Victoria University of Wellington Students' Newspaper. Vol. 32, No. 21 September 10, 1969
Then Came the Others
Then Came the Others
There were five other plays during the rest of the week, all of them having a curious sameness of fashion: stylised sets, alienation, improvisation. Three of them were inordinately preoccupied with demonstrating the difference between character and actor. Before Auckland's performance of John Brown's The Fall and Redemption of Man, the actors wandered out of the audience and stood about on the stage holding hands or pointing out friends in the audience. The whole cast was onstage throughout behind the acting platform where they could be heard and seen mumbling away and changing costumes. This may imitate the inconveniences of theatre-going in the middle ages but was otherwise no better than a distraction. This improvisation was suggested by the author, the actors were not very practised at it (even a good ad lib needs rehearsal) and this lack of assurance did not help. The play was on allegory of the Jesus story (prefaced by a bit of Eden) played straight for three hours. It would not be fair to knock the cast who were bearable for the first half at least—the shepherds were funny, Eve had good legs and Jesus Was promising but wordy (I swear I heard great chunks of rhyming couplets). Quite simply, it was a poor play and a relief to get out.
Massey offered The Madwoman and the Nun by Witkiewicz. This one is also set in an asylum where the genius-poet Walpurg rails agianst society which he feels is victimising him and seizes on the nun whom the psychiatrist has provocatively sent to attend him. Whatever the effect of passionately whipping off the nun's headress was intended to produce (and she later appears in a nightdress) it could not, at that moment, have been the gales of laughter the audience thought appropriate. I can only see that the play was intended as a farce of the Absurd. The acting—save that of the Madman himself. Arthur Ranford— consisted of stilted line sand unco-ordinated movement. At times it was incredibly funny for the wrong reasons. The clumsy direction never gave the play a chance; and it would be a fair bet that nobody backstage knew what the play was about either.
I regret that I missed seeing Otago's Tom Paine by Paul Foster. However, Bill Evans will now discuss the performance and will add something about the drama workshop:—
Tom Paine was very good visually. It opened with cartwheels and gossiping and waving to the audience by the assembled cast. There was an unscripted discussion by three actors of the characters they played, a bishop vanished upwards, ghosts gave off sparks, the stage one time was simultaneously Gin Row and a packet-boat at sea, and later, complex politicking was explained by living chess pieces. All this and more and more exciting than it sounds. Yet spontaniety is not the same as indiscriminate roudiness, and an audience can't pick up what's being said if everybody's improvising at once. Foster's play called for skilled, sophisticated performances, and most of these actors seemed not yet competent at straightforward roles. Warren Dibble was to my surprise (why?) damned good, rising to brilliant in his long monologue in prison. The whole thing was liberated theatre, but I can't see how Tom Paine, the american revolutionary has any relevance to New Zealand. Why not call it "Edward Gibbon Wakefield" and write it all yourselves; The show was very obviously the joint creation of Paul Foster and the La Mama Exeprimental Theatre of New York; to try and perform it way out here, without it being just as much the creation of the Otago students, was to leave it a dead play.
At a workshop session on Friday three actors from Auckland presented a short poetic play about Herod, Salome and John the Baptist. I didn't know their names, or the author's, but it was as near perfect as a student play is ever likely to be. Its name might have been something like "The Crying Head of the Prophet John." A really superb little thing.
Both Canterbury and Victoria presented the same play, After the Rain by John Bowen. They were not so much a clash as an amicable source of comparisons for the two casts. Canterbury's version was produced by Brian de Ridder who has come out of the ranks of their drama society. The actors were all good and had prepared their parts well, both individually and as a team. It was here that they had the edge on our own production. The play as written has faults of construction and character (which were discussed in an earlier review) but it was unfortunate that Canterbury had such a large actor for Armitage. It was ludicrous to see him fail to do a push-up (as the script requires) and simply not credible that he cows before Henderson who is clearly his physical and mental inferior.
The most obvious differences between the plays were the sets. Laurence Karasek for Canterbury created two large skeleton cubes of rough wood for the cabins and rigging ropes to suggest the rest of the raft. The essential acting areas on deck, in the cabins or in the hold were thereby clearly defined. Victoria's production was simpler with just table and chairs for the cabin scenes and open stage for the rest where the scenes were imagined from the dialogue. The Canterbury set was impressive, but as the Vic version showed, not really necessary. Besides, the beams often partly obscured some of the inside action.
Without Marat/Sade and Tom Paine, the week would have been a John Bowen festival, a very depressing thought. Mr Bowen pall rather quickly. He has been having a rash of successes in London; are these things inevitably contagious?