New drama 1988-89: an expanding field.
There are other boundaries, too, of course, within the 'play' category--between naturalism, or 'illusionism', and its enemies, (2) between the textual and the physical, between the propagandist's and the entertainer's aims. Our playwrights are crossing and re-crossing these invisible boundaries all the time, but that doesn't mean they're not aware they are there. It might be supposed that the most radically 'experimental' plays are to be found outside the constraints of the established theatres. But within the corral, it has also been acknowledged, there is a wide range of forms and styles to demonstrate the theatre's accommodation of interesting eccentricity. (3)
To most of us brought up in the European tradition, the distinction between drama as text, as 'given', and as theatrical experience, or 'experiment', is always present; but it does not have to be divisive. In the crucible of performance the elements are melded and a new creature emerges: one which is, in the best of our theatrical endeavours, strong enough to reconcile those whose first loyalty is to the text--that is, not only to 'the language' but to 'the literature'--and those whose priorities are more immediate. Obviously, it is only in a setting (discussion, criticism) other than the theatrical occasion itself that any theatre-lover would ever take sides. In the present setting, I take the opportunity to reflect upon some of the issues that are evident in retrospect only: those invisible boundaries that help map a territory that is broad--and still broadening--various, and only partly known.
One of the distinctions that has interested--and disturbed--me most in recent years is that between a 'play' and a 'show'. It is not a simple distinction, except where the author makes it clear what they intend (as in The Hansard Show, The Great NZ Truth Show), and that they don't intend anything else. Can a show or a 'musical' ever be considered a play? Some, like Stretchmarks, touch upon a range of emotions and problems wider than you would expect in what is popularly known as 'light entertainment'; and in the musical theatre of Mervyn Thompson, or even in a good 'musical comedy' like Stephen Sinclair's Big Bickies, (4) there is something serious at stake, there is a drama at the centre of things. Often, songs are used in place of dialogue (for another instance, in O'Sullivan's Jones & Jones) to express contrasts and contradictions, if not struggle or conflict. This is a comic version of the ancient core of drama, the significant agon.
Some, but not all, shows have dramatic qualities, while some dramas use the forms of entertainment more usually associated with shows. The distinction I am making is a nearly-invisible one, too, when plays and shows take place in the same arena, are advertised to the same audience, use the same actors from the professional stable. Despite all this, and the professionalism of one of the most successful 'plays' of the previous year's list, Ladies" Night seemed to me in the end barely distinguishable from the kind of performance it imitated and satirised. At least, the rocking audience I was part of did not worry about such perceptual niceties; it (they--he and she) simply had a ball. And who's to say that isn't a Good Thing? It is a Very Good Thing Indeed that our theatres have been packed with all sorts of people enjoying all sorts of plays--or shows. But the tendency to identify all brands of cattle as the same beast has led to a great misunderstanding of what our playwrights and theatre-makers can do, of what is good as well as funny, or good as well as serious, rather than good because funny, good because entertaining--a 'good night out', a 'beaut show'.
My often-expressed complaint regarding the overbalance of musical shows as opposed to plays in the Fortune Theatre's programme is not however, what it seems. I certainly don't mean that all plays are good and all shows are bad, or that the audience is wrong to prefer the latter over the former, as they clearly have done or the theatre wouldn't be weighting its programme in this way. Since Roger Hall's Love Off the Shelf, the Fortune's greatest commercial success to date, the local examples of the genre have maintained a pretty high standard when compared with the imports from overseas. I was impressed, on the one hand, by the sharp satirical edge of Stephen Sinclair's Big Bickies and, on the other, by the sympathetic poignancy of Aunt Daisy! by Peter Hawes--both good as well as funny, with a wide popular appeal. But a show has to be very good if it's to stand comparison with the last one--in our case, the one it is following close behind. Probably it is the sameness that has bored me, the lack of the very 'variety' that used to go with the genre's name. This has certainly not been lacking in the programme of our national theatre over all.
At least, variety--of kind as of quality--is not lacking if we draw the bounds widely enough about the subject in hand. If I seem already to be begging the question of whether a 'national theatre' exists at all, this is partly as a result of the self-defining limits of the present survey. Not only are some of the most interesting dramatic happenings excluded from attention because they are not based upon scripts intended for circulation and re-use; no allowance is made for the considerable contribution to our national theatre in recent times by groups creating and recreating a history of indigenous dance. Neither music nor dance is antipathetic towards the principles of good theatre; the opposite, rather. But there is no doubt that in some cases what makes good theatre does not make good (that is, lasting) literature. We have the half-good script of Ladies' Night to pass on to posterity, and yet of some of the best performance texts, which will never be repeated-like Warwick Broadhead's The Long Night, The Passing Night--not a word remains. What is permanent (literature) is not necessarily better than what is evanescent--in the very oldest sense, a passing 'show'. Nor, of course, am I claiming that the opposite obtains. But, as I said in a 1985 article about the rise of women's theatre, 'the roots of the most vital forms of theatre now emerging are not necessarily to be found in the published plays of the recent past'--or even in the much larger category of 'literary' or scripted plays. (5)
In the list of first-productions appended to this article I have set the boundaries a little wider than they have been set before, to make acknowledgement of the range of drama that was offered in the years 1988-89. But it is still 'drama' that I'm talking about, not 'theatre', as (it will be clear by now) I would like to. It is not a complete list, (6) even within the terms of a survey of the dramatic literature, and the number of 'eccentric' items is a very small proportion of the whole; in most cases, they are included merely to represent an area of dramatic activity that would otherwise go unrecognised.
Because of the larger number of items, my discussion of the individual scripts is not as thorough as that which accompanied previous surveys. Nor, if the first or subsequent productions of a play have been fully reviewed elsewhere, have I thought it necessary to make (or repeat) my own review. I have seen a large proportion of these plays in performance, sometimes at a workshop stage, or in a later production in a different theatre from the one which hosted the premiere. Most of my play-going has been done in Dunedin and Wellington, however, so I have not been able to illustrate fully the sense that our 'national theatre' has come to extend far beyond the professional community theatres in the major cities. (7)
The first event I have listed for 1988 does, however, indicate that we may seek, and find, good new plays anywhere and everywhere. My theatrical year began in a marquee on a farm in South Canterbury where the Aoraki festival provided opportunity for local artists and writers to have their work displayed or performed. Marc Metzger, author of Aviatricks, a portrait of Jean Batten (Fortune, 1987), won the Timaru Herald playwriting prize on this occasion for his sympathetic comedy Twice Around The Garden, which was also performed the following year in Dunedin at the Globe. I include it here in the setting of its premiere because it is a perfect example of a play suiting its audience and giving them that pleasure in seeing a dramatic self-reflection which is like no other pleasure derived from the arts. It's not that plays haven't been written before about life in farming families; they have been written in the past by amateurs for their own small-town theatre societies, particularly for the British Drama League, and later the New Zealand Theatre Federation festivals of one-act plays. The difference between a 1958 or 1968 performance and this 1988 one, however, is that such plays are now going beyond their local setting and reaching the mainstream. There is also much more opportunity for a writer who 'begins small' to learn aspects of the craft and apply them to plays of quite a different substance and scale.
It is to represent this continuing activity of local writing for local needs that I include in my 1988 list the joint winners of the Shell award for the best New Zealand-written one-act play at the Christchurch Festival of Community Theatre. Bronwyn Bannister and Denise Walsh, writing respectively for the Taieri Dramatic Society and for students at a Dunedin high school, one hopes may follow writers like Rachel McAlpine (8) and Susan Battye in publishing their scripts for others to use. (9)
Children's drama is represented in my list by Joy Cowley's highly enjoyable bit of fun-and-games, The Haunting of Frogwash Farm. There is nothing particularly New Zealand about this show--except the idiomatic use of that word in a stage direction which sums up the whole:
Horse trots on stage. Front half bows. Back half tries to bow also and gets kicked by front half. Front half seems determined to control show ... (10)
The ambience is all English-pantomime, with even a hint of Shakespeare in the starring role of 'a horse that talks at both ends'. (11) The play is just one further addition to Playmarket's long list of good scripts for children; but the value of children's theatre should not be underestimated. Children who enjoy drama of quality grow into adults who demand nothing less than the best--and I am all along arguing that we should raise our sights in this regard.
Joy Cowley's writing--predictably, perhaps, for a practised hand--has an easy, generous flow. Other commentators for this journal have welcomed the results of a turning to drama by writers already established in other literary fields. (12)
I have also been noticing in recent years how many theatre practitioners in a variety of areas (directing, acting, theatre-in-education, group work) have turned to writing for the stage. In the 1988-89 list (to my knowledge) James Beaumont, John Smythe, Joseph Musaphia, Fiona Samuel, Roger Hall, Riwia Brown, Lorae Parry, Danny Mulheron, Carmel McGlone and Jean Betts all come, either recently or historically, into this category. The increasing amount of theatrical activity throws up many opportunities for actors to try themselves in different areas, such as writing--multiplying the number of scripts well-grounded in the practicalities of mounting a production. More parts are thus made available for more actors, who then get the grounding necessary for their own development as writers if they want to go that way.
John Smythe's return from Australia in the mid-'80s added a new name to the group of professional actors-turned-writers which is growing all the time. His Entrancing Exits at Bats Theatre during the 1988 International Festival of the Arts helped enlarge the number of indigenous plays 'on show' for the many visitors to Wellington at that time. (13)
Remembering the virtual absence of locally-written plays during the 1986 festival, except for one (Depot-produced) work, South Pacific by Simon Wilson, it was good to see in 1988 not only a greater number of local productions (14) but one crowning achievement in James Beaumont's Black Halo, again at the Depot, which remains a showcase for local talent and on this occasion did us proud. (15) I was not fortunate enough to see this extraordinary piece as I was performing my own cabaret at the time. (16) The script, however, gives a rich impression of both the author's ingenuity in the use of language and the play's theatrical possibilities. I had not read the script of Beaumont's Wild Cabbage before seeing it at the Depot in 1985, but rejoiced in its inventive dialogue and even more preposterous physical images. (17) The latter were not merely additions to the text but a tangible form of the 'wild' imagery in the characters' words and names ('Zip-Up Tummy Mum', 'Devout Lout', 'Freak', 'Barbie Doll Girl'). So in reading Black Halo without seeing it I experienced the usual theatrical process in reverse. I would urge anyone else who missed it to do the same, for the text carries a powerful sense of its own physical realization embedded within it. Reading plays is not always so rewarding, unfortunately.
Black Halo posits a fascist-religious state succeeding some global catastrophe (marked as 'B.C.C.', the 'Big Car Cessation'), with refugees from the 'urban wastelands' banished to the wilderness for self-preservation when one small zealot elite, the 'Whitebeard Deciders', holds all control. (18) The identification of this state with New Zealand is made by the use of recognizable speech-idioms distorted in a weirdly effective patois; but the identification with South Africa under apartheid is also obvious in the use of specific, highly-charged words like passes'. (19) A conflation of the two possible settings is achieved by reference to 'Maori territory lands'. (20) Patriarchy is assumed to be underlying and overbearing throughout:
Our whitefather art in heaven halo-d is his name his is the kingdom of power and glory forever, ever, ever our men. (21)
The main characters we see are women: two 'ordinary' creatures subsisting in the wild, and two refugees looking for 'Godette', in-a brazen imitation of Waiting for Godot. The characterization of the equivalents of Vladimir and Estragon (Val and Ess) and of Pozzo and Lucky (Maggzo and Lux) as women reminded me strongly of Jean Betts's illuminating production of the Beckett play at Downstage in 1975 with an all-woman cast. But this play is much more than an adaptation of Beckett's text--or than the sensitive reading of it that Betts achieved. Beaumont has invented a whole new language for his characters, including a set of verbal rituals that celebrate the seasons-for the two stateless ones, the only certainties:
haere mai dawn waken haere mai dawn waken kia ora eye openin kia ora eye openin says howdo mudda summa mudda summa says ta-ta madam noight ... (22)
All 'normal' womanly tasks are parodied: putting on make-up, shopping ('thas dear thas dear'), passing the time of day ('noice day fort/hows jack'), (23) doing the weekly wash, kneading bread. Life, apparently, goes on--in the complete absence of anything approaching normalcy.
Each woman provides the other with a mirror of everything she knows, reinforcing old patterns, such as fighting and making up afterwards, because day-in and day-out the only comfort is in sharing one's condition. There is a real tenderness in Beaumont's picture of a suffering, degenerate humanity, all awareness lost but still fearful, still alive.
The child-like innocent urchins, who might be living in neolithic times, are contrasted with Maggzo the modern, whose dialect mixes technical referents with the royal 'we': it is management-talk, arrogant with auto-reference but always (comically) disappointed in the expectation of efficiency. The humour with which Beaumont satirises the woman-in-power has a very local and contemporary feel--even though the part of Maggzo was an invitation to send up a specific woman politician, Margaret Thatcher, played in the premiere production by Stephen Clements in drag. (24) In a symbolic illustration of the basis of power there is a nearly-sympathetic picture of co-dependency in the yoking together of the practical, resourceful (motherly) 'servant' Lux and the regressive, worn-out 'keeper' Maggzo--supposedly the stronger partner but finally, no less than the other child-women in rags, needing comfort like a suckling baby. The play holds up as something to be feared a persistent and apparently ubiquitous form of external power, and yet by the end has shown its complete irrelevance 'on the ground'.
Alma de Groen's play The Rivers of China is similarly set in a futuristic state in which women have (one isn't told how) assumed power. This time power relations are expressed in a medical model: the main preoccupation of the women we meet is experimentation with humans, in the present case the transplanting of the soul of Katherine Mansfield into a man's body. There are interesting repercussions in this reversal of what is assumed to be the historical process, wherein the bodies of women have been 'colonised'. I found the mind-switches and suspensions of disbelief that were required nearly impossible, and others have shared my difficulty. (25) In the Downstage production, however, the acting of Bruce Phillips as a tortured spirit inseparable from a failing body was very moving, and the power-play between guru Gurdjieffand disciple Mansfield in contrasted historical scenes brought out something of the male/female battle that undoubtedly occupied Mansfield all her life. De Groen has explained the intention behind the play's divided structure in a published interview:
Gilbert: You've said The Rivers of China aims to keep the audience 'wrongfooted'. How is this notion central to the form and themes of the play?
De Groen: ... I need the audience to go on the journey that Katherine was going on, and that all women go on from the time they are born, never quite being at home in the universe, and not having any maps and always being told to look to the male for a passport and guidance.... The notion of wrongfooted ties into never quite knowing what's around the next corner. This is the kind of journey that Katherine takes down the rivers of China, never knowing what's around the next bend in the river. So the play is always putting the audience in the position of having to say to themselves: 'Where are we?' (26)
This work by an expatriate New Zealander about another famous expatriate had been workshopped in Australia in 1986 with Renee as dramaturg, and premiered in Sydney in 1987, winning both the NSW and Victorian Premier's awards for best play. In Wellington it ran a parallel season with Vincent O'Sullivan's Jones & Jones, which was commissioned by Downstage to celebrate the Mansfield centenary. (27)
Despite its montage structure, in which short scenes, incidents, songs and passing comments by the characters are presented in a constantly changing array, O'Sullivan's play communicates well the durability of the Jones & Jones partnership--that rather remarkable attachment between KM and 'LM', Ida Baker, her lifelong friend. As the playwright flits from one viewpoint to another we see glinting facets of the subject, yet in another way we seem never to leave the mind of Mansfield. Through all the changes of situation there is a consistency of tone that is unmistakably hers: an archness, a detachment that mixes humour and cruelty. The play's vitality is drawn from the life of the moment-come and gone in the twinkling of an eye, but not before KM is shown to have extracted every bit of perverse enjoyment from it:
Katherine: I think I know what you're talking about Francis. I think I know exactly.
Carco: Vous etes charmante ... Vous etes belle, ma fleur.
Katherine, to Ida: Later on of course I shall write about him as a little fox terrier of a Frenchman, sniffing after every skirt ... (28)
O'Sullivan has put together a script that does not seem put-together at all, using the writings of Mansfield, with which he is intimately familiar, and playing on 'her own passion for music hall'. (29) 'It's the expression of anything that gives it reality,' says his Katherine to Bertrand Russell as they cycle together, talking about God. (30) The playwright has brought into being an entirely new reality by expressing in dramatic form hitherto unrelated songs, speeches and incidents in Mansfield's experience. His lively ironic play based on her playful life shows great assurance in the medium, though this was (to my knowledge) only his third work for the stage. Like his 1989 play Billy, Jones &Jones is eminently readable--also teachable and exportable-in its published form.
In that centenary year Elizabeth O'Connor also attempted the transformation of a group of Mansfield stories for stage performance, under the title Bright Birds. In this script there are large chunks of Mansfield instead of O'Sullivan's borrowed images, remarks and lines; but more is less, unfortunately, to my mind. There is not enough departure from Mansfield to indicate that this is a new and different creature--as Jones & Jones so emphatically asserts its right to be. Nor does O'Connor do justice to the original fictions, alternating and overlaying one with another so as to obliterate their internal structures, while attempting to preserve and further their common themes. This is too great a wrenching for the material and its carefully-wrought meanings to bear. This promising playwright, like O'Sullivan the author of at least two original plays, (31) finally doesn't do herself justice, in that she does not give herself enough rein. On the other hand, the adaptor does no service to the original stories either, although the piece was conceived as a tribute to Mansfield, this time from the Court. Karen Nobes's adaptation of 'Bliss' alone (Allen Hall, 1988), while less ambitious, at least preserved the integrity of that story, lost but not replaced in O'Connor's conflation of 'The Garden Party', 'Bliss', 'Marriage a la Mode' and 'A Cup of Tea'.
Several of our most experienced playwrights had new plays produced in 1988: Robert Lord (The Affair), Roger Hall (After the Crash) and Joseph Musaphia (The New Zealander). Centrepoint produced a more polished version of The Affair than the one I saw in 1987 in a workshop production using student actors at the Globe; but the range of reviews bear out my misgivings about this script as a play.
It is an extended showing-off of young people's romantic concerns, highly enjoyable on the level of repartee, but lacking any real dramatic substance. Some critics raved about the Centrepoint (April) (32) and Circa (June) productions; (33) Rosemary Beresford of the Listener even thought the 1987 Globe production revealed ' good play'. (34) I have to say that I think this piece is both 'slick' (35) and 'shallow'. (36) Admittedly I saw a less-than-professional production, but so did John Darwick find the Centrepoint show an 'amiable waste of time'. (37) I have difficulty granting this comic-strip send-up the name of play, thus putting it in the same category as Lord's other excellent works, Bert & Maisy and China Wars.
In After the Crash, on the other hand, Roger Hall seems remarkably to have accomplished a sequel to The Share Club which lives up to his well-known name. (38) The characters remain the same; only their economic status has been changed. Some shrewd comments are passed upon other changes consequent upon economic change--in individuals, their family and sex-roles, and even in 'society'--but any political awareness encouraged by Hall's object lesson tends to get dissipated by the laughs. I'm sure it must have become much more difficult since The Crash to write comedy 'about us' at all. Hall has not (I don't want to say yet) lost his integrity in this regard: the boundary between serious and silly theatre is a chasm over which he has long since learnt to walk the proverbial tight-wire.
Joseph Musaphia is a tight-rope walker of similarly proven agility, whose comedies have succeeded most where they were pushed over the edge into satire. In a strange way, the sillier they became, the better they were; the exaggeration itself was comical, whatever it was that was being satirised. (39) In The New Zealander--which is not about a person, but a paper--Musaphia has chosen the issue of truthful reporting as the subject of a tussle set in 1864. The paper's Editor, Sam Quick, has reported, to the complete humiliation of Her Majesty's services, that 'three hundred [Maori warriors] overwhelmed seventeen hundred' at the battle of Gate Pa. (40) He maintains of course that the humiliation happened as part of that incident in reality, and not because of his publication of the sordid details. Nevertheless, in a very physical, farcical treatment of the issue, Musaphia has his partisan representative and his truth-teller do battle centre-stage. The battle is shown taking over Sam's entire life, to the extent that a menacing Maori figure accosts him in his dreams: this creature is the embodiment of the fear which is shared by settler (Sam) and serviceman alike, and which was still evident through the 1980s underlying many Pakeha responses to 'Maori sovereignty'. Musaphia seems to have been encouraging his largely middle-class, Pakeha, non-radical audience to see the silliness of that fear. He also deftly relates the position of Maori and the position of women by having that same Maori actor assume Sam's wife's costume--still in the nightmare mode, in which the image is memorable because of its absurdity. Craig Fransen as the part-threatening, part-fascinating Maori/woman clearly enjoyed his role in the subversion of the old certainties.
The most comical scenes in The New Zealander, however, were given to a pair of travelling professional artist(e) s casting Shakespearian pearls before colonial swine. Musaphia sent up what used to be normal, the visitation of culture from overseas, in what felt to me like a replay of a tour by Sir Donald and Lady Wolfitt in the early 1960s. That was my first introduction to Shakespeare on stage; the fact that Bruce Mason was touring The End of the Golden Weather at the same time is the only reason that I could accommodate in my adolescent consciousness the idea of a national theatre originated by New Zealanders. But that was of course only the beginning of a process that has become more and more complex, as the idea of a 'national' anything has been replaced in the last decade by an array of possible cultural identities. The theatre has been a good place to see the development of these contemporaneous and overlapping expressions of culture, which is to say of a way of life, of a point of view, of what the term New Zealander means.
Musaphia's comic re-reading of a colonial past is one of a number of recent attempts by Pakeha writers to re-construct our history with the allowance of another (Maori or female) point of view. 1985 saw the production of Waiting Women, written and directed by Graeme Tedey, (41) and Te Tutakitanga i Te Puna (Encounter at Te Puna) by Paul Maunder's Theatre of the Eighth Day, both at the Depot. Both Te Puna and Ngati Pakeha: He Korero Wbakapapa (Depot, 1986) were 'written by Maunder as scenarios in English and then the Maori parts were reworked by the Maori actors', as Chris Balme describes the process in a review of 'New Maori Theatre in New Zealand'. (42) While Maunder saw himself as a 'facilitator, enabling Maori members of the group to find expression', (43) the conception was originally his, as was the attempted 'synthesis' of cultural forms. (44) The plays were not, then, examples of the 'New Maori Theatre', but rather of 'Pakeha plays incorporating Maori themes': to my mind, a genre apart.
In another extraordinary instance, this time of a Pakeha celebration of Maori heritage, John Hudson (with a group of drama students of Munich-based Balme) presented Ko Maul, a dramatization of the Maui legends, to sell-out audiences in Germany in 1986. Hudson's 'dance play' was repeated the following year in Dunedin under the new title Ao Marama, this time with Maori actors, to an appreciative audience at Allen Hall and on a local marae.
The development of a sort of normality about a Maori presence on stage has parallelled the appearance of Maori characters and life-situations in the work of social-realist Pakeha prose writers, in the years before the flowering of a literature written by Maori for Maori. It is a significant development in our cultural history, but it would be wrong to attribute significance to the order of events, to imagine that writers like Hilliard, in fiction, or Mason, in drama, were 'preparing the ground' in any area except their own (the writing of fiction or drama in the European mould). As I have said, some of the most lively events in the 1980s relating to the theatre, and even in such apparently 'European' media as ballet, have issued from another source: Maori and Polynesian dance. Maori dancers melding many different styles, including such obviously popular modes as break-dancing and such obviously traditional modes as the haka, have in the last ten years completely changed the 'image' of dance--particularly for males.
This explosion of physical energy which blew apart some old stereotypes was only partly harnessed in the Pakeha-conceived works which were more strictly 'plays'. Pakeha may have accorded 'Maori subjects' sympathetic treatment, just as male writers (such as Simon Wilson in Loved Ones) have accommodated women's experience and issues; but it is misleading to use the word 'subject' in this discussion at all. By definition, those people and issues that are taken as subjects, in being 'put on stage' are being objectified. A truly subjective drama is created, rather, by the subject; subjects best define themselves. In comparison to subject-oriented drama, plays attempting to set forth a reality that is 'other' (if they are not exaggerating its 'other-ness' in the way Musaphia does in The New Zealander) run into great difficulty; the choice of medium in itself is a limitation if that also is foreign to the subject in hand.
Simon Wilson in South Pacific (1986), with the best possible intentions of reversing the 'colonial' approach to writing about Polynesia, quite unfortunately ended up downgrading the lyrical, celebratory elements of his drama by an overbalance of European-centred satire. (45) Acting in his play were Poina Te Hiko, whom I saw playing the Maori teenager in the Auckland production of Rosie Scott's Say Thank You to the Lady (Working Title, 1985), (46) and Eteuarti Ete, who has since gone on to writing for the stage. Neither player in that setting looked totally at home. Interestingly, some of the strongest acting came from Samson Samasoni, who had two years before co-written 'the first Samoan' play. (47) Since Wilson's 1986 production there have been many productions and tours by groups like Te Ohu Whakaari, Te Ika a Maul and Te Kani Kani O Te Rangatahi, demonstrating the vitality gained by Polynesian performers from material they or their people have written or choreographed themselves. (48) These are some of the non-plays that have broken the bounds of our 'national theatre' as it might hitherto have been conceived.
Several dramatic pieces of Rore Hapipi (Rowley Habib) have been revived, extended, explored, in the receptive climate of the Depot. 'Maori strengths asserted' was the appropriate heading for David McGill's review of Hapipi's Tupuna (Depot, 1987) (49)--not quite a play, but a 'visual poem for stage'. Inseparable from either its maker(s) or its intended audience, Maori theatre is distinguished by continuity. Even the crazy, highly individual cabaret act of Nell Gudsell in A Tona Wa: Live at the Depot (1988) was not intended to stand on its own; there's no truly solo show in the context of the whanau. (50) Gudsell's comic exploration of the joys and dilemmas of being Maori and gay was perfectly 'at home' alongside Jim Moriarty's performance of 'Fragment of a Childhood' by Rore Hapipi. The audience for both was the same: 'We're up close with the audience, they're right on top of us and we're right on top of them, just like in a meeting house', said Moriarty in an interview. (51) The audience was, as is now common practice, called into the theatre with a karanga and entertained in the interval with action songs.
Some new Maori writers have come to the fore recently, crafting 'well-made plays' in the European mould, but also harnessing that energy coming from the Maori community seeking ways to express how it celebrates, shares, creates, remembers and mourns. In the University of Otago's Allen Hall in 1988, among the many products of work in Roger Hall's playwriting class was an arresting short play by John Broughton, called Te Hara (The Sin), dealing with a family's infringement of tapu and its consequences. The spiritual head of the family was the mother, memorably played by Toroa Pohatu, a lecturer in Maori Studies who had never acted formally before. Then during the 1989 New Zealand Writers Week, another substantial work by Broughton was staged in the forecourt of Mataatua, the meetinghouse in the Otago Museum: Te Hokinga Mai: The Return Home was given the title of the visiting Te Maori Exhibition which in 1986 had been hosted in the same place, and which inspired the work. (52) Broughton's story of friendship between two officers serving in Vietnam, and their 'Return Home', was intensely moving in its use of the ceremonies of welcome, sharing and bereavement as if on a 'real' marae. The theme of the 'discovery' of Maori values and spirituality (through people, however, rather than through artefacts) continued that of the touring exhibition, Te Maori, as it affected local Pakeha:
Martin... for me, the most incredible thing of all, what really gets me, was that I had to leave New Zealand, my home, and go overseas to a bloody war, to find the treasures on my own doorstep. (53)
The sentiment is endorsed by Roger Hall in his introduction to the published play. Hall rates John Broughton's arrival on the playwriting scene, quite rightly, as 'an important step forward for the dramatic repertoire of our country'. (54)
Both Te Hara and Te Hokinga Mai went on to be performed in Wellington in the 1990 Festival of the Arts at the Depot, in conjunction with Nga Puke, also by Broughton, and a number of other (subjectively) Maori plays. The development of a Maori presence through the festivals in 1986, 1988 and 1990 is interesting to see.
Among the 1990 participants was Riwia Brown, who had been one of the supporting singers for the Gudsell/Moriarty performance A Tona Wa (Depot, 1988), and who had also in 1988 authored a stage and radio play, Roimata. I found this story, purportedly based on a real experience, quite intimately involving to read. Its depiction of a Maori boy co-opted into the Salvation Army, however, has a rather dated, two-dimensional feel. The characterizations of Roimata and Eddy, her jealous boyfriend who belongs to a gang, are more rounded and closer to an imaginable reality. Samson Samasoni considered that the 1988 Depot production by Te Ohu Whakaari exuded the 'same air of mixed success' I found in the script, but that, 'while it lacks depth, it overflows with honesty'. It was 'written by a sincere and instinctive writer who deserves to be supported. Pat Grace had a first story and Robin Kahukiwa a first painting, Riwia Brown has a first play.' (55)
Both Allen Hall, where John Broughton first had Te Hara performed, and the Depot, which staged Roimata, have always offered something very important in this opportunity of play-making for the first time, which is the opportunity to try things out, to fall short, to make mistakes even, but to have one's work accepted, initially at least, on its own terms. With this aim in mind, the Depot in 1987 hosted a very successful winter festival of playreadings under the title 'Heartstarters'. Jeff Addison's Upright, about a man and his relationship with his piano, was one of the plays put to the test before an audience at that time. Despite suggestions made in the audience discussion which followed each presentation, the script that went on to full performance in 1988, however, was little changed from the 'trial' one. Even acted by the versatile Danny Mulheron, it did not rise above the ordinary. (That doesn't mean it wasn't worth doing in the first place; as Samasoni put it, you have to start somewhere.)
Other scripts from Heartstarters fared better: Rawiri Paratene's Erua was given a very fine production for television broadcast in 1988. I was impressed by this sensitive, closely-focussed 'portrait of the artist' (Toss Woollaston) and his model, a young Maori boy. (56) Perry Piercy directed a reading of Stephanie Johnson's play about disabled teenagers, Dancing out of Time, which had already been well-received in Auckland, and we saw Lorae Parry's Frontwomen for the first time. This sympathetic depiction of lesbian love was enthusiastically received in its professional season at the Depot later in 1988. (57) The production I saw three years later at Allen Hall was strong in its outlines yet delicate in detail, containing a sometimes unbearable conflict as in life it has to be contained: the only way out, the play seems to say, is through.
Just as Once on Chunuk Bair (also given its first Wellington airing in the Heartstarters series) was hailed as a quintessentially masculine play, with its superb rendering of relationships between male and male, Parry's account of life on the home front has at its heart the distinctive quality of relationships between women and of ordinary family ties. It is very difficult to compare these two plays in terms of the style, let alone the 'standard' of writing; they stand as prime examples of the extreme difference between men's and women's theatre, which is based on the difference between two worlds of experience, almost two cultures. To say the first was a better play than the second (as I imagine some might say), would be to turn back the clock to a time when a single literary standard prevailed--and when no plays were produced (even if they were written) by women at all.
Parry's work is better compared with her own earlier play Strip (Circa, 1982 (58) and revived at the Depot in 1987). (59) The main thing to be noted about these plays is that women are in the foreground--in two such different arenas, Strip is that of a nightclub and that of Front-women a domestic setting which becomes as public as a television studio. There is a humourful appreciation in both plays of the courage and endurance of ordinary women constantly pressured to perform male- and heterosexual-defined roles. The difference between the two plays is that male characters, damned in Strip in their (near-) absence from the stage, are present in Frontwomen, one or two (a supportive television colleague and a teenage son) given real substance, including the mixed feelings which show they are sharing in the situation's complexity.
Lorae Parry and Carmel McGlone in their 'Digger and Nudger' performances, first as part of the line-up in the fantastically successful 'Hen's Teeth' comedy team, (60) and then in their own show Digger and Nudger Try Harder (Bats, 1989) have taken to the comic limit this investigation of the modern male's perplexity in the face of social and sexual change. From the time I saw Lorae Parry in the part of a chap called Chips in Accidental Phantasies (Stephanie Johnson, Depot 1985) I had an inkling of what fun could be had by a reversal of the time-honoured custom of a male acting the goat in women's clothes. Quite as important as the development of women's theatre in general---much of which (like Death in Namibia, linking pornography with other forms of abuse, (61) Renee's Secrets, or Norelle Scott's play about incest, Promise Not to Tell) has a tragic undertone, (62)--has been the rise in recent years of a robust, heartening female (and usually feminist) comedy.
Fiona Samuel's Wedding Party, centring upon a traditional kiwi style wedding (shades of the classic scene in The Pohutukawa Tree) has this sort of humour in good measure--and a lot else besides. Samuel manages to combine a bitter-sweet nostalgia for the past lives of the traditional couple, family and society, with that explosive iconoclastic energy that erupted in plays like Accidental Phantasies. (63)
I thought Samuel's carefully crafted piece, the product of a cooperative workshop process undertaken with Tantrum Theatre, a brilliant feat of theatrical composition, with the tenderness towards her subject not finally overwhelmed by the play's powerfully satirical drive. The Wedding Party met, deservedly, with generous critical acclaim. (64)
Samuel returned to acting in partnership with Miranda Harcourt in 1989 in Norelle Scott's adaptation of Oracles and Miracles, the novel by Stevan Eldred-Grigg which was also broadcast in serial form on radio. The stage performance was as good as two gifted actors could make it, but the story, and the play, suffered for lack of the character of Ginny and Fag's mother, who never appeared (though she had been central in the novel), and had to be re-created through her daughters' reminiscences, or in back-projected film, at one or two removes. (65)
In Leah Poulter's Reign of the Mothers, on the other hand, we were regaled with a number of characters, or attributes of characters, that we didn't need. Many of us were disappointed in this 'next play' after Poulter's (and Miranda Harcourt's) consummate realization of the 'working girl', Kaz (66) A mother and daughter tussle with each other--quite realistically--until something snaps in the mother and she switches into nightmare mode. The process of her suffering, abnegation and growth to self-knowledge is charted by a series of visitations from forces outside herself (or projections of her own faculties), until she 'comes round' to herself and can begin living in a new way. The play suffered, like Robert Lord's The Affair, from being all surface, having no subtext. There were no cards up the playwright's sleeve to lessen the predictability of the outcome; they were all on the table, in what (again, like The Affair) ended up being another kind of 'show'. This was not theatre of struggle or conflict, which is always interesting; rather, it became a static pageant, a theatre of display.
Warwick Broadhead's The Long Night, The Passing Night might have appeared to fall into the same category, with its epic ritual progress with pageant-like scenes interspersed. It was an adaptation of the Hawaiian creation chant, the Kumulipo, which 'celebrates the wondrous fertility of the seven stages of the primordial night', (67) in a 'polymorphous catalogue of creation' as David Eggleton describes it: a fluid amalgamation of poetry, dance, comic drama and mime. (68) The difference from Mothers lay firstly in the dynamic quality of the ancient epic poetry, which had its own momentum--even 'life force'--and secondly in its extraordinary conjunctions of style, its constantly surprising twists and turns. This is 'theatre of the unexpected'--like that of Inside Out Theatre, though it was Dramadillo that described itself in that term. (69)
Several other playwrights in my list used 'the unexpected' for its undoubted theatrical appeal. Stuart Hoar had only to translate into stage action the ironies already woven into Dumas's classic story, The Three Musketeers--in an adaptation plotted with ingenuity and, like John Banas's Full Marx!(Downstage, 1983), magnificently achieved. (70) Tantrum Theatre's adaptation of Great Expectations, scripted by Dean Parker, while not able to convey the complexity of Dickens, did provide a theatrical experience out of the ordinary. (71)
Dean Parker's own play The Feels, performed by the all-woman group Bandana, used the surprising effect of gender reversal in most of its roles to distance its subject matter in an obviously Brechtian fashion--to 'make strange' something previously taken for granted: the male (not to say macho) tradition of the New Zealand Federation of Labour over the last fifty years. Pat Cooke considered the attempt 'worthy', but 'laboured' in both style and content. (72) Paul Maunder describes the effect of the gender reversals in a wider context:
The women cast playing the corrupted male roles created, at a subjective level, a feeling of sickness far greater than if males were playing the same parts. Their portrayal of women's issues, their becoming women then, took on a wholeness which in terms of emotional strength gave a message that hope in the trade union field lies with women. In this sense, the play became a powerful feminist piece of theatre. (73)
What Maunder calls the 'cynical realism' of Parker's portrayals seems to have had an undermining effect, however, in terms of the play's success in communicating its message. What is lacking in this kind of satire is the easy humour that Brecht would be the first to say was necessary in a truly popular theatre.
In Red Mole's Comrade Savage, based on the life of Prime Minister Michael J. Savage, the 'unexpected' took a similar form in the dislocation of style and subject-matter, or the critique of subject-matter through style. But the whole approach was pretty foreign to the proletarian audience Red Mole intended to serve, even though the 'subject' was familiar. As in the development of Maori theatre, the issue of subjectivity itself begins to assume a position centre-stage.
Any artist attempting to make a 'working class' theatre meets the same difficulty that confronted sincere playwrights attempting to address Maori, women's or lesbian issues from a point of view 'outside'. (74) Commenting on Red Mole's presumed 'internationalization' of vision through their sojourn in New York, Paul Maunder, I am disappointed to say, is probably right in his conclusion that the hoped-for conjoining of subject and object is nearly impossible:
... the problem with the vision in exile is that it loses its links with the community, becoming an international mannerism. This reinforces the always latent contradiction of group vision theatre, that the vision becomes a subjective fetish, feeding in parasitic fashion on the 'objective' material it takes as its subject matter. Narcissism becomes the name of the game. (75)
I would like to be able to say that Mervyn Thompson's Children of the Poor achieved its author's hopes for a theatre of the working class, that it had its subject contained, not at arm's length but organically at its proletarian heart. The creation of a living, ordinary family in the Porcellos certainly forms a reality with which any audience can identify--comparable with that achieved in the stage version of Oracles and Miracles, for instance. There Ginny and Fag were played by young women with a strong feminist awareness, who may or may not have been born into the working class but certainly conveyed what it means to belong to the class, women. The creation of real characters in Oracles, however,--and the achievement of the play's purpose-depended almost entirely on the strength of the naturalistic acting; the personal was not intended to be political; we always knew we were being entertained.
It is a very difficult mix to get right, the one that Mervyn Thompson is aiming for in his adaptation of the starkly horrifying novel by John A. Lee: to teach and to delight, as Horace said was the dual purpose of poetry; or in Brechtian terms, to use the entertainment medium of theatre to activate in the audience a political awareness, if not a will to action of a political kind. Added to those general artistic aims is the particularly theatrical one: to surprise.
In all Thompson's work the 'unexpected' is an important creative force: that element of shock combined with entertainment in the use of music, or the technique of having the actors step out of character and into a chorus, to highlight an incident or issue. In this play, though, the greater the personal and emotional involvement with the characters--of a kind achieved, for instance, at the announcement of the Porcello baby's death--the more disruptive seemed these songs and declamations. The 'strength of the political statement', maintains Richard Corballis, echoing Brecht, is lessened rather than increased by the theatre's affective power. And yet those moments of emotional identification were so few and far between, and then so short, that I felt we were cheated of a drama when we needed it, whether to move us as we go to the theatre to be moved, or to push the message home. The songs (nearly all hymns) had for me an effect of taking us out of the situation instead of reinforcing the experience being communicated in that scene. Their connection with the action was often unclear, except as painting a generally religious background against which a personal story was played.
It is that story--Albany Porcello's story, told in the novel in the first person--that Thompson has inherited, and that he wishes to hand on. That makes this play different from his others which were created for a purpose, and may be the reason why, in the Fortune production at least, there seemed a disjunction between the story, with its emotional claims, and the broader 'political statement', so that neither were as strong as they seem to have been in the original production directed by the author at the Court. Even of that performance, however, Corballis, while considering the play's transition from novel to drama 'superbly managed', goes so far as to say that, 'Unlike O! Temperance! and Songs to the Judges, it does not throw out much of a challenge to contemporary New Zealand society.' (76) Mervyn Thompson's aims and background in this dramatic territory are described in his article, 'Theatre and Working Class Politics', published in 1988, before Children of the Poor reached the stage: (77)
For me 'Doing New Zealand Political Plays'--and writing them--came to mean rediscovering history. In particular, it meant rediscovering my own history, the forgotten history of working class people. (78)
The play certainly bore out this primary intention, receiving a warm audience and critical response both at its 'stirring, impassioned' premiere performance (79) and later at the Fortune. (80) 'Like Lee's book,' wrote John Farnsworth in The Press, 'it has its faults and shortcomings, but it also shares ... its energy, its determination and its vision.' (81) In these terms alone, Children of the Poor was a welcome and substantial addition to Thompson's corpus of work in this vein--and through that, to our national theatrical (as well as literary) repertoire. There is no doubt that, despite some difficulty with the balance between 'rhetoric' and 'reality', as Farnsworth perceived it, both Lee's and Thompson's 'vision' was well served.
Some playwrights do not declare themselves as plainly as Thompson does--not only through his autobiographical writings but in and through his plays. Mark Casson, whose prolific output has provided fodder for hungry Dunedin student actors and audiences for some years, writes in an obscure absurdist vein, many of his themes and images proving not only unexpected but downright alarming. A Shallow Grave for the Falling Tear (see 1988 list) is only one of Casson's many short dramas (often, as in this case, dialogues) presented to the regular weekly audience for Lunchtime Theatre at Allen Hall. Casson has quite a following, with his characteristic style that combines the bizarre and the familiar, using a particular kind of dead-pan humour that is impenetrable to reason. There was humour also, and a strongly local, if idiosyncratic, idiom to some of the dialogue in his otherwise rather too obviously Pinter-like play, The Birthday Stain. (82) Raewyn Gwilliam in The Island made similarly veiled references to nasty experiences (rape? incest?) in the characters' pasts, but her play did not depend on our understanding of exactly what happened, as The Birthday Stain seemed to, without ever giving us more than a few (obviously crucial) clues.
The Island shows quite a clever handling of the use of naturalism to convey a sort of normality which, as in Pinter, is gradually subverted until the whole situation is turned inside-out and upside-down. In this story, to a mother and daughter pair apparently celebrating togetherness, is added a third character (male) who arouses their competing desires. The play was workshopped in 1988, and reveals careful attention to some (but not all the necessary) theatrical details. Judith Dale, in an article entitled 'Man Delights Not Me' makes a full analysis of what was 'only moderately successful' in its production but remains 'an extremely interesting play.' (83)
An unexpected twist in the characters' (and the audience's) sexual expectations brings a flicker of interest to the outcome of the plot in Marc Metzger's strangely dated comedy, Room to Move. In the reading I saw at the 1989 NZ Writers Week the characters had become less funny as the play went on, stuck as they were within (morally and theatrically) conventional bounds. The Dominion's reviewer, Susan Budd, found them 'two-dimensional', when the play went on to be produced at the Depot. (84)
It is in the nature of comedy that stereotypes are allowed to flourish; but whatever they are given to represent, or defend, or advertise, or do, they are rarely allowed to grow. It takes a brilliant strategist to move them about in changing relationship while disguising their two-dimensionalilty, so that we don't stop laughing at situations, and never start to question things like motive, cause or consequence, in any serious way.
Just such well-timed comedy of collision and co-incidence was achieved by Stephen Sinclair and Danny Mulheron in The Sex Fiend, our first local example--and a 'fiendishly successful' one--of pure farce. (85)
Stephen Sinclair had already shown in Big Bickies as well as Ladies' Night an acute sense of what appeals to the populace. But that is not all that his writing reveals. When compared with other scripts for musical comedy, such as Charles Harter's The Rugby Poet, it appears witty, shrewd and pointed, making the most of all opportunities for irony. Big Bickies shared with Hawes's Aunt Daisy/an underlying conscience of human vulnerability and of the anti-human uses of money and power. Charles Harter attempts to incorporate the consciousness of two child-murders in his 1988 play, which is really about an ordinary rugby-player who alienates all his friends by spouting poetry he has written by the light of a hidden creative flame. The mixture cannot work--but the attempt shows up the subtlety with which Sinclair and Hawes have got the frivolous and the faintly serious to meld, in a form that has never pretended to be anything but comedy. (86)
Roger Hall's dramatic tribute to the late Denis Glover, called Mr Punch, was similarly successful in its range of tones, this time a mixture of gutsy commonsense and poetic sensibility. Glover's most popular face may have been that of humorist, but he was also a writer of delicate lyrics, entirely free of either cynicism or sentimentality--plus, as Hall reveals, witty letters, anecdotes and autobiographical tales. (87)
Comedy and satire, those two most natural complements, were well mixed in what I thought one of the best plays of 1988, O'Sullivan's Jones &Jones. Of the 1989 crop, several were memorable because of the balance in that particular mixture: Stuart Hoar's one-acter Scott of the Antarctic, which completely deflated the venerable myth of the heroism of southern man--and dog; Jisrn by Ken Duncum and Rebecca Rodden, an extravaganza on the selling of 'sex in a bottle'; and Anthony McCarten's Pigeon English, a highly original exposure of the machinations of local-body bureaucracy. A dash of sentiment (also satirised in its form of expression) was added to Jism in the soft focus on the relationship between a pair of siamese twins, and to Pigeon English in the portrayal of the feelings of the underdogs of both the human and feathered variety.
The successful mixture of comic tones and styles seems to have earned Jism its quite extraordinary 'popular and critical success', as Kurt Davidson describes it in a retrospective article. (88) The complicated plot (summarised there) satirises more than corporate exploitation of the market's lust for an aphrodisiac--two kinds of greed. It takes sideswipes at a variety of other social attitudes, such as the process of illogic behind the classification of 'the enemy':
Lily: I think she's got a thing about men.
Rose: Her father was a man apparently. (89)
One of the characters shows the similarly tortuous mental process of an animal-liberationist: 'I blow up things for things who can't blow up things for themselves.' (90)
As Davidson finds, attempting to hit too many targets at once can make for a spattering effect, which can be a sign either of great fun or of ineptitude. Jism showed, however, that there was certainly a market for this kind of sport and entertainment combined. The audience seems to have loved it for its simultaneity rather than its complexity, its daring extravagance, the quality of being over the top and round the bend and up a tree at the same time. One wonders if such a production can be repeated; does the 'play', or only memories of an excellent 'show' survive?
Playmarket does not hold a script for Jism, Duncum and Rodden not being client writers, but Anthony McCarten's Pigeon English joins his growing list of Playmarket-held plays. I first encountered McCarten's writing in Cyril Ellis Where are You? (Depot, 1984, later re-named Invitation to a Second-Class Carriage). This play had a spattered sort of structure, too, anything and everything becoming a subject for conversation in a railway carriage on the North Island main trunk line. (Historically, Cyril Ellis was the person who in December 1953 tried to stop the train in its fateful career towards 'Tangiwai'.) What Robert-H. Leek has said of McCarten's Canary Mazurka (Depot, 1987) applies as well to Second-Class Carriage and Pigeon English: the playwright combines our 'interest, amusement and compassion' (91) in a sort of sympathetic satire. His vision, while not as broad as that of, say, Stuart Hoar, encompasses classes of people unrepresented in our drama before. The notion of compassion for the 'outsider' is comically stretched in Pigeon English by his taking the part, in a play about the 'powers that be' ensconced in an old Town Hall, of the powerless pigeons roosting in the hall's clock-tower.
Humour has always been the easiest way to engage an audience's sympathy. It makes at least one of the characters likeable (rather than laughable) in the otherwise dark Birthday Stain, and leavens the moral earnestness of Reign of the Mothers in some of the early scenes. Humour helps us recognise a fellow-humanity in the characters, even in the cartoon-like musical comedies. I liked the scene in Aunt Daisy! in which Daisy's husband conducts a cooking demonstration 'on air' with a recipe he's just lost while Daisy simultaneously encourages a nervous non-performer, reconstructs the recipe from spilt stew and keeps order in a studio crowded with children: such a juggling feat is entirely familiar to any parent balancing the demands of work, home and family. It made a nice point that was more than a 'joke', and made us laugh in a different way.
There was humour working in the deepest blackness of Black Halo, perfectly judged to enable us to take the points of what might be called its tragic satire. And in Frank Whitten's Trifecta, (92) a play with a murderously bleak scenario, it provides--for me, at least--the most memorable lines:
Barry: I'll tell you something, Brian. Mate. I was watching this nature programme on the box the other night--round my daughter's place. Got a couple of kids, solo mother, likes a night out. Anyway, glued to it--some fucking island off the coast. At night this was. I tell you, Brian, there was things on that island the oldest in the world. Fucking awful things to look at. Put your hair on end. Coming out of the sea--all at night this was--crawling out of cracks, dropping out of trees--hanging on their own spit. Doing their nocturnal hunting, see. No brain--lights out--instinct takes over--no conscience, know what I mean--sleep of a day, kill of a night--the old survival bit. Tracking down their prey. Fucking little murders happening all over the place. Christ it was grim. Huh! Strangling, crushing, poisoning, drowning--stabbing into each other with these fucking awful spines--all in close-up. Insert the sharp bit into a soft spot, know what I mean? (93)
In Trifecta's low-life context of animal survival--animals, that is, killing others to save themselves--the disabled Jack Galloway asks 'con-man and recidivist' (94) Vinnie Vine to help him commit suicide, bequeathing his girl-friend the insurance money from the 'accident' they arrange. The operation is undertaken in the same way that a big bet is laid, the qualities required in the serious gambler being 'courage, determination' and 'nerve'. (95) Trifecta, however, entertains its audience through making them fear rather than pity the emotions that are given rein. The humour is cold, with a deep cynicism throughout preventing any rise in temperature. Those who enjoyed this play (and some certainly did, in both Wellington and Auckland) might have relished its 'thriller' or 'detective' qualities--though I'm not the only one who found it hard to understand what exactly happens at the end. The twists in the plot are not, it seems, made to throw light on reason or cause, but for effect--to answer the audience's perpetual need to be surprised.
The many different combinations I have found in this crop of plays, of humour and tragedy as well as humour and satire, are some preparation for considering the play I think is by far the best in these two years: Vincent O'Sullivan's Billy. A drawing-room play with a difference, Billy is centred upon a representative Aboriginal servant of that name who, in historical or theatrical terms, is not really central at all. The few actions of this apparently deaf-mute 'boy' provide a silent side-show to the pre-occupations of Australian settler society. Billy's silence represents intransigence underlying subservience, dissent beneath consent, otherness dressed up in familiar clothes. The symbolism of having the New Zealand actor (in the premiere--and so far the only--production, Danny Mulheron) apply black-face makeup, and at one point do a soft-shoe shuffle to entertain the company, widens the fable to include associations of indigenous and enslaved Blacks in America, as well as, by inference, the South African servant class and the colonised Maori.
The play is not intended to illumine Black subjectivity (as in any case the five above-named experiences of Blackness are five different subjectivities); rather, it seems to me, to reflect the smallness, tightness, exclusivity of the vision of the Whites who situate themselves centre-stage. The play is a marvellous--sometimes humourful, sometimes chilling--exposure of what that lack of vision, or vision fraught with fear and misunderstanding, means. It continually relates the violent subjection of inferior men to the subjection of women and animals-sometimes all three:
There was an old dog lay at the mill door and Bingo was his name sir B-I-N-G-O Bang her and bop her and kick her and cop her and Bingo was his name sir (96)
The women reveal more desire to understand the 'natives' than do the men, secure in their place at the top of the scala naturae. But there are of course limitations to that process, however well-intentioned it is, as Mr Charles says of his wife's 'tinkering with' native language (incidentally one of many Aboriginal languages, though that breadth of context is never seen):
We make the mistake of thinking that language will somehow clarify things between us and the natives. Nonsense. It's simply another confusion if we make that concession to them. We realised that in Scotland a hundred years ago, surely! (97)
Captain Forster seems to say there can be no discourse between 'Black feller, white feller', with or without language; that the mere sight of Billy changes the nature of things, shakes the ladder on which he is seated, undermining his world:
Glasses like this. Furniture. Byron's poems. Then a blackman comes into the room and the glass shatters. Heirlooms are simply firewood. The books scraps of paper. (98)
If there is any alliance against instability, it is clear that it will be between the Whites, male and female, rather than between women and Blacks as subjects in a territory ruled by males. Charles's daughter Elizabeth is placed in the anomalous position in which she could align herself with either male party. She can express her minor discomfort with the others talking about Billy in his presence--about training him like a dog--and yet she can herself teach him 'tricks' (99) and rejoice in it, and in the same scene ask Captain Forster about his Aboriginal-hunting expedition: 'Did you kill any yourself?. Did you, Frank? Did you kill one, darling?' (100) In an interchange in which that question is answered by 'antiphonal' 'white and black voices', Elizabeth's speaking apparently for Billy reinforces the anomaly with great poignancy:
Captain Forster: Eight of us, that's all, at least thirty of them. Not that you can ever tell.
Elizabeth: They feller over there, they on horses up high.
Captain Forster: Behind the trees, you know how they melt in. How the ground protects them.
Elizabeth: Up high there, filling all this bit sky, white bosses over sky.
Captain Forster: It was quite literally impossible to tell where they were. You glimpse them. Then they're not there.
Elizabeth: We standing we black fellers, we like trees, standing still as trees. (101)
Mrs Broughton expresses at another point perhaps the play's main idea: that there is no such thing as alignment, or identification, or sharing with another identity, if that identity is confined by the view of it as object:
And he [Billy] would know he was the one I wanted to look at, to have in the room by himself. Because I know our part in his suffering and the boy himself knows that is why I watch him. And he knows it has nothing to do with the fascination that Elizabeth sees in him, nor the curiosity that holds Charles, nor the concern for his immortal soul that keeps calling Lydia. He knows that I look at him with neither affection nor disdain, in a way that is not possible for me to look at any other human being. I am looking at something so empty, so foreign to me, that I only see back myself. I am fascinated as I am by a mirror in a strange room. (102)
As David Carnegie puts it, 'Each European character projects onto Billy an image of his or her own hopes, fears and fantasies.' (103) He is used, much as a prostitute is used, as a sort of repository; but in the theatrical context his presence is also both a 'challenge' and a 'touchstone', 'a mirror held up not only to nature but to history' (104)--as Carnegie articulates what I also experienced as a gesture to Shakespeare. The tragedy of Billy, to continue the allusion, is that the one whom they tell 'him Kinga England Billy's father' is made to play the Fool. He is stripped, unvoiced and reoclothed to serve a function in another world from his own; the animal/human/clothing imagery, with talk of civilization and its feared collapse, and a fundamental questioning of human identity--all these associations carry more than a passing echo of King Lear.
All this on the boards of the old Unity Theatre, now Bats, which has carried, as well as two attempts at Lear, a good many New Zealand plays in its time. Local theatre is well served by texts of the penetrating quality of O'Sullivan's Billy. What is wrong with our 'community theatres', that they haven't siezed this play with both hands?
When you look at the list of new performances in 1988-89 you can't help but be amazed at the large proportion of these scripts that succeed as plays, whether or not they are published--or even readable on the page. That large number of 'winners' was, of course, generated out of an even larger field. There are no winners without a few other mediocre and downright bad works being numbered among the alsorans. Playmarket has its own quite stringent assessment procedures, in which I have taken part, and I have seen enough of those 'other' scripts to last a lifetime; but as the field grows bigger, so does the number of scripts of high quality. For this reason, I welcome the growth in the field for its own sake: among those plays that go through to production, with or without Playmarket's approval, there are always going to be some of doubtful or mixed quality, while a few come stunningly alive. I welcome all presentations of locally-written work which demonstrate the writers' willingness to run the gauntlet of audience approval, to test themselves in what is without doubt a rewarding medium, but one which requires dedication beyond most people's imagining. Making theatre is a very exciting, risky and exacting art.
A list of new New Zealand plays performed in the years 1988-89, with the authors' names and the date and place of first production. Playmarket's client authors are marked with an asterisk; scripts by Playmarket authors may be requested on loan from the NZ Theatre Federation, Box 3037 Christchurch. Other material is available at Playmarket, Box 9767 Wellington ph. 828461.
FEB Twice Around the Garden, Marc Metzger * (Aoraki Festival, Timaru)
FEB The Rivers of China, Alma De Groen * (The Gods, Mercury, Auckland)
MAR Black Halo, James Beaumont * (Depot, Wellington)
MAR A Tona Wa: Live at the Depot, Neil Gudsell and Jim Moriarty/Rore Hapipi (Depot, Wellington)
MAR Entrancing Exits, John Smythe * (Bats, Wellington)
MAR The New Zealander, Joseph Musaphia * (Fortune, Dunedin)
APRIL The Affair, Robert Lord * (Centrepoint, Palmerston North)
MAY Death in Namibia, Women's Performance Arts Collective (Allen Hall, after Chippendale House, Dunedin, 1987)
JUNE Te Hara, John Broughton * (Allen Hall, Dunedin)
JUNE A Shallow Grave for the Falling Tear, Mark Casson * (Allen Hall, Dunedin)
JUNE The Wedding Party, Fiona Samuel * (Tantrum, Auckland)
JULY After the Crash, Roger Hall * (Fortune, Dunedin)
JULY Roimata, Riwia Brown * (Depot, Wellington)
SEPT The Meeting, Bronwyn Bannister, and Spirals of the Mind, Denise Walsh (Christchurch Festival of Community Theatre)
SEPT The Haunting of Frogwash Farm, Joy Cowley * (Depot, Wellington)
SEPT Big Bickies, Stephen Sinclair * (Fortune, Dunedin)
OCT The Rugby Poet, Charles Harter * (Wellington Repertory, Wellington)
OCT Jones & Jones, Vincent O'Sullivan * (Downstage, Wellington)
OCT Frontwomen, Lorae Parry * (Depot, Wellington)
SEPT Great Expectations, Dean Parker (Tantrum, Auckland)
OCT Bright Birds, Elizabeth O'Connor *(Court, Christchurch)
DEC The Three Musketeers, Stuart Hoar * (Mercury, Auckland)
APRIL Mr Punch, Roger Hall * (Fortune, Dunedin)
APRIL The Birthday Stain, Mark Casson * (Allen Hall, Dunedin)
APRIL Te Hokinga Mai: The Return Home, John Broughton * (Visual and Performing Arts Centre, Araiteuru Marae, Dunedin)
APRIL Scott of the Antarctic, Stuart Hoar * (Allen Hall, Dunedin)
MAY The Island, Raewyn Gwilliam * (Depot, Wellington)
MAY Aunt Daisy! Peter Hawes, * Music by Six Volts (Downstage, Wellington)
MAY Jism, Ken Duncum & Rebecca Rodden (Bats, Wellington)
MAY Reign of the Mothers, Leah Poulter * (Allen Hall, Dunedin)
AUG Pigeon English, Anthony McCarten * (Depot, Wellington)
AUG Billy, Vincent O'Sullivan" (Bats, Wellington)
SEPT The Sex Fiend, Stephen Sinclair * & Danny Mulheron * (Bats, Wellington)
(SEPT) The Feds, Dean Parker (Bandana Theatre at Bats, Wellington)
(SEPT) Comrade Savage, Red Mole (Wellington)
OCT Trifecta, Frank Whitten * (Tantrum, Auckland)
OCT Room to Move, Marc Metzger * (Depot, Wellington)
Nov Digger and Nudger Try Harder, Lorae Parry, * Carmel McGlone and Jean Betts (Bats, Wellington)
JUNE Children of the Poor, Mervyn Thompson * (Court, Christchurch)
DEC Oracles and Miracles, Norelle Scott * (Depot, Wellington)
DEC The Long Night, The Passing Night, Warwick Broadhead (Silvery Coins Ensemble, Dunedin)
A list of New Zealand fictional drama and Serial productions broadcast 1988-89, with date of first broadcast. (This schedule is as advertised in the NZ Listener, I have no information on programmes not broadcast as advertised.) I give only the name of the writer and the number of episodes they wrote, although other details are held on file. I have commented only on those programmes I have seen, and on serials of which I saw the majority of episodes.
JAN First Lady of Law, Ken Catran
JAN Peppermint Twist, Robert Lord (z), Peter Hawes (2), John Smythe (4): a light-hearted teenage series, based on the music and social habits of the sixties. My pre-teen children quite enjoyed it, ignoring my remarks on its frothy substance and questionable authenticity.
JUNE A two-part edited version of the first series of Gloss, then
JUNE Gloss, (second series) Rosemary McLeod (3), Jeffrey Thomas (2), Liddy Holloway (3), Ian Mune (2), Judy Callingham (2), Lex Van Os (1).
JULY Bert and Maisy, Robert Lord (7): An interesting experiment in the translation of a stage play to 'popular' television fare, which did not succeed as easily as all concerned must have hoped, and had every reason to expect. I appreciated its mixed-genre quality: this was not a sit-com; there was no laughing track, and actors Grant Tilly and Alice Fraser retained the subtlety of the emotional nuances in the original, playing an ageing couple trying to adjust to 'retirement' with good humour and some dignity. All this must have been lost on an audience that wanted a 'show' or a 'comedy' along the usual lines.
AUG Porters, Jonathan Hardy (6): a 'humorous drama' on hospital life.
SEPT Erua, Rawiri Paratene (discussed above in context of Heartstarters series, where it was given a reading on stage at the Depot in 1987).
OCT Funny Business: six-part satirical series by the group, Funny Business.
APRIL Shark in the Park, Graeme Tetley and Chris Hampson (1), Charlie Strachan (3), Norelle Scott (2), Wendy Jackson (I), Frances Walsh (1) and with Graeme Tetley (1), Simon Morris (I): an excellent series about a unit of frontline police officers and their boss, Inspector Finn. I agree entirely with Ken Duncum's evaluation:
Shark in the Park has succeeded ... not only in producing New Zealand's first real genre police drama, but also in catching the newer mood and approach evident in such shows overseas, thereby imbuing this series with a more gritty naturalism and realism than might have been expected. A realism that stems directly from characters who are sometimes intemperate, dirty-minded, fallible and human--ordinary people in a stress occupation where trust and camaraderie are not only crucial but hard-won and easily lost as well. The result is a superior New Zealand drama, both accurate and entertaining. (105)
JUNE The Rainbow Warrior Conspiracy, David Phillips: a fictionalised drama in two parts based on the bombing of the Rainbow Warrior in July 1985.
JUNE Strangers, Margaret Mahy (6): a children's 'drama of mystery and magic'.
JULY The Shadow Trader, Debra Daley (original story), Sue McCauley (2): quite a good 'mystery thriller' about money and power.
JULY Space Knights, a children's science-fiction cartoon adventure by Jonathan Gunson, and the following co-writers in different combinations for different episodes: Arthur Baysting, Charlie Strachan, Ken Catran, Allen Trussell-Cullen, Martin Howells.
AUG Hotshotz, Ken Catran (5): a children's thriller series.
AUG O'Reilly's Luck, Tama Poata, Gaylene Preston, Pat Robins: a 'modern melodrama set in New Zealand'.
AUG More Gloss, Judy Callingham (4), Ian Mune (2), Rosemary McLeod (2), Debra Daley (1), Liddy Holloway (5), Norelle Scott and James Griffin (1 each and 1 shared), Bruce Phillips (1), Wendy Jackson (1).
SEPT Night of the Red Hunter, Ken Catran (4): a children's mystery thriller.
OCT The Champion, Maurice Gee (6): our family enjoyed this drama series about a boy's friendship with a black American GI during World War II. It gave a carefully reconstructed 'period' picture of life in New Zealand as well as an exciting and involving story. It wasn't quite as good as The Fire-Raiser--in which Gee had given himself a hard act to follow.
NOV E Tipu, E Rea (Grow up Tender, Young Shoot), a five-part series of Maori dramas: Roimata, Riwia Brown (discussed above as a stage play); Variations on a Theme, Rawiri Paratene; Thunderbox, Bruce Stewart; Te Moemoe/The Dream, Patricia Grace (broadcast on TV1 in Maori and simultaneously in English on National Radio); The Eel, Hone Tuwhare. The Patricia Grace story that I saw/heard was beautifully produced, and the consensus seems to be that Roimata was better suited to television than to the stage. The fact that this series was made, and broadcast--as not all dramas that are made reach the audience they were intended for--was more than welcome to all interested in indigenous culture and its promulgation in the most popular medium of our times. This was a landmark achievement, in retrospect the more valuable since the recent tendency has been-tragically--to decrease the 'non-commercial' local quota on television on financial grounds.
DEC Pumpernickel, Anthony McCarten: a short film/portrait with a close personal focus.
In 1988 radio plays were broadcast by: Simon Grant, Stuart Hoar, Michael Heath, Ken Duncan, Robert Johnson, Fiona Farrell Poole, Donna Malane, David Hughes, Laurie Mantell, Olwynne Macrae, Rachel McAlpine, Barbara Anderson, Vincent O'Sullivan, Mervyn Thompson, Raewyn Gwilliam, Stephanie Johnson and A. R. D. Fairburn. Several Katherine Mansfield stories were adapted for dramatic presentation, and no fewer than z5 were read in story form to mark the author's centenary. Radio NZ also broadcast readings of short fiction by: Ian Colthart, Barbara Anderson, Brian Gregory, Jennifer Bornholdt, Bub Bridger, Gwenyth Wright, David Hill, Helen Watson White, Stephanie Johnson, Rita Hughes and Keri Hulme. There were episodic readings of books by: Phillip Mann, Patricia Grace, Janet Frame, Carol O'Biso, Alex Gillett, Lisa Vasil, Antony Alpers, Geoff Chapple, Heather Marshall, David McGill, Margaret Sutherland, Derek Little, G. B. Harrison, Peter Mahon, Denis McLean and Pauline O'Regan. Serial readings of works by Richard Davis and David Hill completed a very impressive list of local productions.
1989 saw the already healthy output of the Radio NZ drama department increased by one-third. There were more Mansfield adaptations, and radio plays authored by: Michael Heath, David Cameron, Anthony Taylor, Barbara Anderson, Bob Couttie, David Hill, Bill Manhire, Vincent O'Sullivan, John Downie, Stephen Oxenham, Alan Trussell-Cullen, Robert Lord, Stuart Hoar, David Hughes, Rachel MacAlpine, Raewyn Gwilliam, James Vickers-Edwards, Donna Malane, Thompson & McCurdy, Barbara Neale, Bruce Thomson and Robert Johnson. Radio NZ broadcast the short stories of: Patricia Grace, Stephanie Johnson, Rosemary Britten, Christian Ward, Rodney Foster, Juliet Whetter, Jennifer Compton, Suzanne Chapman, Adrienne Jansen, John Lester, Leah Poulter, Barbara Anderson, Jennifer Bornholdt, Helen Watson White, Murray Clapshaw, James Vickers-Edwards, James Norcliffe, Owen Marshall, Bub Bridger, Sue Irons, Shirley Duke, Peter Bland, Kenneth Fea, Dorothy Golder, Eleanor Lysaght, Graeme Lay, Barbara Neale, Bruce Scott and Anne Ingram. Books by the following authors were read on radio: Anne MacFarlane, Betty Rowe, Judy Harrison, Borany Kanal, Stevan Eldred-Grigg, Archibald Baxter, Lauris Edmond, Phillip Mann and Joy Cowley. There were more works produced in serial form in that year, whether fiction or non-fiction my source does not specify. We heard serialised works from: Pearl Manktelow, David Hill, Helen Brown, Phillip Mann, Valerie Smith, Dan Davin, Graeme Lay, Alex Trousdell, John Parker, Ken Blackburn and Norma Ashworth.
The medium of radio continued in 1988-89 to provide the country's most comprehensive coverage of new writing, as it had done for many years. With its substantial tribute to Mansfield in the many adaptations and readings of her work, and its presentation of authors like Archibald Baxter and Jane Mander, it also showed a praiseworthy interest in 'old work' revived. There's nothing like having one's work presented alongside the best for keeping a writer on his or her toes.
In 1988 Playmarket published Four Plays, an anthology of plays by young people workshopped and performed at the 1987 'No Kidding' A.G.C. Young Playwrights' Festival at Downstage. The plays are: Trompe L'Oeil (Elizabeth Fow), Running Out (Emma Haxton), The Box (Cathrine Kingston), and Your House, My Home (Sonya Puohotaua). In the New Zealand Playscripts series, Victoria University Press published Stuart Hoar's Squatter, and The Share Club by Roger Hall. The Rivers of China (Alma De Groen) was published with an introduction by Elizabeth Perkins in the Australian series, Currency Plays (General Editor: Katharine Brisbane), by Currency Press (Box 452, Paddington, NSW). Dramatic Sketches by Katherine Mansfield were published by Nagare Press (Box 934 Palmerston North) with an introduction by David Dowling and Wilhelmina and David Drummond. Robert Lord having held the University of Otago Burns Fellowship for 1987, the University of Otago Press in 1988 published his play Bert & Maisy, which was first written in the U.S. in 1979 and given its first New Zealand production at the Court Theatre, Christchurch, in 1983.
Plays published in 1989 included, from Victoria University Press, A Red Mole Sketchbook by Alan Brunton. The volume bears a note: 'Permission to perform these plays must be obtained from Red Mole Enterprises, P.O. Box 9656, Courtenay Place, Wellington'. The scripts as blueprints for performance may not be available to allcomers, but it is significant that works from 1974-1989 which might have been thought ephemeral have now found a permanent home in our dramatic literature, and are at least available to readers of all kinds. VUP also produced Vincent O'Sullivan's Jones and Jones, and Three Radio Plays: Blonde Bombshell (Fiona Samuel), Battle Hymn (Stephen Walker), and American Girl (Stuart Hoar). Longman Paul published On Stage Book 3: four plays for secondary schools, comprising Easy as Pie (Susan Battye), A Very Short History of the World (Barbara Neale), and two plays by David Hill, Been There and Nice to Know You. Of those plays premiered in 1989 several were published in 1990: Vincent O'Sullivan's Billy, by Victoria University Press; Children oft he Poor, adapted by Mervyn Thompson, by Hazard Press (Box 8427 Christchurch); and John Broughton's Te Hokinga Mai, by Aoraki Productions Ltd (Box 8003 Dunedin).
Thanks are due to Melanie Setz and Lauren Daly of Playmarket for providing a steady supply of scripts and other material over a long period, to Ann Paetz of Radio NZ Drama for computer listings of radio broadcasts, and to Marion Jones for research into television productions in the files of the NZ Listener.
DST Dominion Sunday Times
JNZL Journal of New Zealand Literature
Listener NZ Listener, TV & Radio Times
VUP Victoria University Press
(1.) See my review, DST 17/7/88 and an article entitled 'Physical Work' by Bill Lennox in the Listener: 21/5/88 pp. 48-49.
(2.) Stuart Hoar speaks of a 'theatric inconsistency which is the mortal enemy of naturalism in that it actively destroys or subverts the dramatic illusion', in the introduction to his play Squatter (VUP 1988) p. 9.
(3.) Of his 1986-87 list of plays Robert-H. Leek remarks that 'Quite a few ... appear to have been inspired by a desire to break, more or less radically, with the illusionist tradition'. ('New Drama '86-'87', JNZL 6:1988, p. 6)
(4.) See my review DST 11/9/88.
(5.) 'Paths for a flightless bird: roles for women on the New Zealand stage since 1950', Australasian Drama Studies 3:2 April/May 1985 p. 105.
(6.) It does not, for instance, include plays first produced outside New Zealand, such as Te Awa i Tahutu by Rena Owen, first performed in London, which Howard McNaughton called 'the best local play he had seen in 18 months'. (Lecture at the first NZ Writers' Week, reported in the Otago Daily Times 14/4/89.)
(7.) For an excellent survey of a decade of local drama in Christchurch, see John Farnsworth, 'New Zealand Drama and Christchurch Theatre' (19801990), Illusions 14:1990 pp. 27-29.
(8.) Before she won the New Zealand Theatre Federations 1989 award for youth theatre with Power Play, Rachel McAlpine's work for young people was already well-known.
(9.) Battye's first publication was of her jointly-written play about the Brunner mine disaster, The Shadow of the Valley (Susan Battye and Thelma Eakin, OUP 1980). She also has a one-act-er in On Stage Book 3 (see list of 1989 publications at end of this survey).
(10.) Playmarket script 25/10/88 p. 1.
(11.) Ibid, p. 8.
(12.) McNaughton in JNZL 2:1984 is quoted by Carnegie in 3:1985 in connection with Vincent O'Sullivan, and Robert-H. Leek in 5:1987 notes the dramatic work of poet Fiona Farrell Poole. Recently--too recently to incorporate it in this survey--I read of a play by novelist Sue McCauley called Waiting for Heathcliff (Court, 1988). Another easy genre-switcher is Rachel McAlpine.
(13.) Reviewed by Ralph McAllister for the Dominion, 5/3/88, and by Laurie Atkinson for the Evening Post, 16/3/88. Playmarket holds both reviews.
(14.) Including Stuart Hoar's Squatter, A Tona Wa: (Neil Gudsell and Jim Moriarty) Live at the Depot, and James K. Baxter's Jack Winter's Dream set to music by Ashley Heenan.
(15.) Ann Hunt described it as 'a work of prophetic proportions': 'the most innovative and devastating piece of theatre I had seen in some time'. (Agenda 42: May 1988 p. 27)
(16.) Living With The Man, first performed in 1986 in Germany, then in 1987 at the Fortune.
(17.) See my review in Agenda 15: Nov 1985, and Lester McGrath's in Act 10:6 Dec 1985.
(18.) Playmarket script 2/11/89 pp. 21-23.
(19.) Playmarket script, p. 2.
(20.) Playmarket script, p. 5.
(21.) Playmarket script, p. i.
(22.) Playmarket script, p. 6.
(23.) Playmarket script, p. 6.
(24.) Reviewed 22/2/88 by both the Dominion and Evening Post with the highest possible praise. Playmarket holds these reviews.
(25.) Margot Roth, in Broadsheet 157: 4/88, p. 47: 'For me, the two parts of this play did not mesh properly ...'. But Roth goes on to say the play 'absorbed me, and I look forward to seeing more from de Groen'.
(26.) 'Walking Around in Other Times': an interview with Alma de Groen by Helen Gilbert, in Australasian Drama Studies 15/16 Oct 1989/April 1990 p. 15.
(27.) For an overview of dramatic aspects of the celebrations see Judith Dale's article, 'Peforming Katherine Mansfield', in Landfall 172: Dec 1989 pp. 503-511.
(28.) Jones & Jones (VUP 1989) p. 23.
(29.) Ibid, p. , Author's note.
(30.) Ibid, p. 36.
(31.) See reviews of Chase Dragons in Act 11:2, April 1986, and in Act 11:5, Oct 1986, of The Ashman: both produced at the Maidment, where O'Connor worked for a time on a grant.
(32.) See Playmarket-held reviews by Lin Ferguson in the Evening Standard 19/4/88 and by the Arts Editor of Chaff, the Massey student newspaper, 20/4/88.
(33.) See reviews at Playmarket by both Laurie Atkinson in the Evening Post and Susan Budd in the Dominion, 22/6/88.
(34.) Listener 31/10/87.
(35.) As Douglas Standring said in his Dominion review of the Centrepoint production, 20/4/88.
(36.) John Dawick in the DST 24/4/88, p. 19.
(38.) See my review in DST, 10/7/88.
(39.) See my remarks on Obstacles (Downstage, 1974) in 'Paths for a flightless bird' (1985, cited in note 5) PP. 123-4.
(40.) Playmarket script 7/3/88, p. 9.
(41.) See my review in Act 10:5 Oct. 1985.
(42.) Australasian Drama Studies 15/16: Oct 1989/April 1990 pp. 158-9.
(43.) Quoted by Balme (ibid).
(44.) Balme's description, ibid.
(45.) See my review in Act 11:2 April 1986, p. 19.
(46.) Robert-H. Leek hopes 'that the part of Angel was done justice' (JNZL 5:1987 p. 5). It was.
(47.) Le Matau, with Stephen Sinclair (Depot, 1984), reviewed by Mary Paul in Act 9:2 April 1984 pp. 20-21.
(48.) Te Hiko's 'home', for instance, was subsequently found in the Tautoko Wahine Maori Trust, the composing/performing/recording artists' collective behind the singing duo 'Black Katz'--profiled in Broadsheet 156:Mar 1988 p. 42.
(49.) DST 23/8/87.
(50.) Some other theatre practices are called in question, too: for a send-up of a conventional review of this performance, see Cushla Parekowhai's piece in Illusions 8:1988 pp. 27-8.
(51.) Agenda 40: March 1988 p. 13.
(52.) First performed there in late 1988, and again in April and July 1989.
(53.) Te Hokinga Mai (Aoraki Productions, 1990), p. 52.
(54.) Ibid, p. 6.
(55.) Evening Post 25/7/88.
(56.) See Geoff Chapple's article in Listener 17/9/88 pp. 28-29.
(57.) The play is fully discussed by Judith Dale in Illusions 9:1988 pp. 4-13, and in Broadsheet 165: Jan/Feb 1989 pp. 32-33.
(58.) See my review in Act 7:10 Dec 1982.
(59.) Reviewed then by Merrill Coke in Onfilm 5:1 Dec 1987, p. 50.
(60.) See Judith Dale's reviews in Illusions 10: 1989, pp. 32-3 and in Broadsheet 167 [wrongly numbered 165]: April 1989, pp. 34-5.
(61.) See my review in Broadsheet 153: Nov. 1987 of this play's first production by the Women's Performance Arts Collective, Dunedin.
(62.) See also Simon Garrett's comment on 'the tragic made triumphant' in Mothertongue by the Women's Action Theatre, in Act 11:4 Aug 1986 p. 46.
(63.) I agree with R.-H. Leek (JNZL 5: 1987, p. 8) that, compared to the first half set in Chips's diner, the second, madly fantastical part of that play was not half such good satire; the negative energy was not so well-controlled.
(64.) Reviewed by Rachel Lang in Onfilm 5:4 June 1988, pp. 49-51, in the Listener 9/8/88 and by Matthew Goldie in Illusions 11:1989, pp. 19-23.
(65.) See Ron Mikalsen's review in Illusions 13: 1990, p. 28.
(66.) See my review of the earlier play in Act 10:6 Dec 1985 and of Reign of the Mothers in DST 4/6/89.
(67.) Programme note taken from Martha Beckwith's translation of the Kumulipo (Chicago: UCP 1951). See also my review in DST 17/12/89.
(68.) Listener 5/2/90 pp. 118-119.
(69.) See my review, Act 10:4 Aug 1985.
(70.) See reviews of the Mercury production in DST and New Zealand Herald 12/88, held at Playmarket.
(71.) Reviewed by Bill Lennox in the Listener: 12/11/88 pp. 92-93.
(72.) DST 1/10/89.
(73.) 'Searching for an Activist Theatre: The Feds and Comrade Savage, Illusions 12:1989 pp. 9-12.
(74.) With Lorae Parry and others, I felt that Bruce Mason's achievement in Blood of the Lamb was wide of the mark with respect to lesbian reality. (See my 1985 article 'Paths for a flightless bird', cited above, pp. 116-7, and Lorae Parry interviewed in Broadsheet 168: May 1989 p. 32.)
(75.) Illusions 12:1989 pp. 11-12.
(76.) Review of premiere of Children of the Poor, DST 25/6/89.
(77.) Sites 16: Autumn 1988, pp. 19-23.
(78.) Ibid, p. 21.
(79.) See Playmarket-held reviews in The Press and Christchurch Star 15/6/89.
(80.) See Keith Harrison's review, Otago Daily Times 9/4/91.
(82.) See my review DST 23/4/89.
(83.) Illusions 11: 1989, pp. 27-29. Playmarket holds this article, with a review by Laurie Atkinson, Evening Post 4/5/89.
(84.) See Dominion 30/10/89 p. 11.
(85.) Glowingly reviewed by Denis Welch in the Listener, and Laurie Atkinson in the Evening Post 6/10/89 p. 2.
(86.) Lynn Loates has remarked that 'Aunt Daisy! was never intended to be a "deep" show.... But neither was it intended to lampoon the woman whose verbal slips laid her wide open to ridicule.' Actor Carmel McGlone realised there was 'a fine line to walk'. ('Discovering Daisy', More May 1989 pp. 101-104).
(87.) See my review in DST 9/4/89.
(88.) Illusions 5:1989 pp. 24-26.
(89.) Quoted by Davidson in Illusions 5:1989 p. 26.
(90.) Ibid, p. 25.
(91.) JNZL 6: 1988 p. 22.
(92.) Auckland performance reviewed by Bill Lennox in the Listener 125:6/11/89 pp. 118-9.
(93.) Playmarket script 1312/89, p. 2.
(94.) Ibid, p. 14.
(95.) Ibid, pp. 35, 36.
(96.) Billy (VUP, 1990) p. 11.
(97.) Ibid, pp. 13-14.
(98.) Ibid, p. 25.
(99.) Ibid, p. 27.
(100.) Ibid, p. 25.
(101.) Ibid, pp. 25-26.
(102.) Ibid, p. 36.
(103.) 'Billy: a Colonial Cotillion', Illusions 12: 1989 p. 4.
(104.) Ibid, pp. 2-3.
(105.) 'Cop Shop Opera: Shark in the Park', Illusions 11: 1989, p. 8.