Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume. 34, Number 15. August 4, 1971
drama — Oh What a Muddly War!
Oh What a Muddly War!
"Vasco" by Georges Schehade the most recent faring from the V.U.W. Drama Scoiety is a play which in form conjurs up the image of two large wooden carved elephant bookends between which are stacked innumerable back issues of "Mad" magazine. It has much of the flavour of H.R. Pufenstuf and a hero who in this production at least has all the facial and vertebral characteristics of Baby Hieronymus) Merkin. The overall theme is clearly one of absurdity of war and in particular the use of the individual at the hands of the military establishment. So far good.
In staging this play Nonnita Mann has opted for an extremely light touch working with a cast which range from competent to incomprehensible. The epilogue and prologue represent our baroque bookends and were treated as such but as far as the middle portions were concerned anything went (didn't Sir Thomas Beecham once say that the audience couldn't care less what an orchestra does in the middle passages provided it starts and finishes together?). Talking of orchestras, a lurking band of musicians was added to the bunch of actors playing on average a yard behind the proscenium arch. Neither group seemed to need the other very much but it made a pleasant change.
When confusion is the name of the game and becomes synoymous with war stage discipline tends to be at premium and my [unclear: ral] impression was that the sensitively presented epilogue and prologue had much more to offer the mind because of their overall control and coherence. Put at its simplest the prologue introduces the notion of an indeterminate war and the fact that Vasco, an artistic hairdresser, is for reason best known to the military to become an indispensible part of it. Absurd? Of course. Ah, but maybe they want him in military intelligence? Probably they do More absurdity? Possibly. Enter one or two soldiers dressed as women speaking what sounds like Arabic but winch I am reliably informed is English and the plot sickens. But that as we all know is what the average war is all about. The epilogu gives us a dead Vasco and another bookend.
From all this is can be gathered that the failure of this production is the failure to strike a balance between the chaos inherent in war and that which can never be allowed to overtake the actors. An extremely imaginative two-dimensional set only served to make the characters one-dimensional by comparision. Somehow I feel that the author really wanted two for them also (the play would fail entirely if they were to become three-dimensional). As Vasco, Stephen Hall, is extremely vulnerable and uncomplaining. It is as easy for the other actors, who by and large act out the de-humanising processes of the soldier mentality, to use and destroy him as it was for the Nazis to herd six million jews to extinction. Hall's rendition, however, tended at times to spill over into spinelessness rather than abjectness which contrary to the run of the play, gave the military at least some pretext for bringing about his extinction. This latter reaction however, was to some extent cancelled out by the presentation of the soldiers as having more to offer in flower power than fire power. Perhaps it is one of the great insights in the play that the greatest havoc is often wrought by the most unlikely people (cf. the transvestite Nazis of Visconti's "The Damned" ) It is difficult however, to accept Roy Middleton, Derek Rayner and Gary Jones as much more than nitwits desperately trying to find a way out of a cardboard jungle of their own and Richard Russel's making.
Rather the most rewarding section of the cast was that grossly under-rated section of the military industrial complex, the men and women in the street. The girlfriends, the wives and the image makers who can't see what they are looking for even when it stands before them in the flesh Gillian Skyrme's portrayal of Vasco's sister whose strained and kiwized tones urge her brother to war with the added titbit that he can take his tools of trade with him should he so desire is a beautiful cameo as indeed were the efforts of [unclear: Ephra] McNaught and Ann Ruth as Mama Trappu and Mama Rondo respectively. Equally consistent was Frank Edwards as a Bertrand Russell type philosopher who is as successful at influencing events in this meaningless war was Russell himself in 1915.
This extremely imaginatively staged production is the V.U.W. entry at this year Art's Festival and offers much to the academic mind if somewhat less to the student of theatrical technique and will stimulate much comment provided the audiences outside the walls of Wellington are jess apathetic than the ones inside appear to be.