WHY DO WE SHUN
by Frank Doherty
WE -- the Melbourne public - have no reason to give
ourselves a collective pat on the back over our treat- ment of the departing John Alden Shakespearian company.
It was, in a word, shocking.
Tonight Mr. Alden and his friends will watch the final curtain fall on their 16-week Melbourne season with I do not know what feelings. Disappointing, probably. Acrimonious, perhaps.
For the first time for many years we have had Shakespeare offered to us as he meant it to be offered - as entertain- ment. And what happened?
We lapped it up with the enthusiasm and delight of a child taking a dose of castor oil.
PROBABLY the unhappiest aspect of all was that our schools, for
the main part, hailed the advent of a Shakespearian season in Melbourne with a monumental showing of indifference. It could have been a boogie-woogie festi val for all they seemed to care.
Yet these schools, private and State, were sent circulars (twice) about the series of plays. The bait of concession rates was dangled before them. Some responded, though apathetically; others did not respond at all.
YOU may ask here, and possibly with some justification: "Was the Alden company worth seeing, worth paying for our children to see?"
And "The Merchant of Venice." in- cluded in the Alden repertoire, is included in the school curriculum for some stu- dents this year.
Of course it was. It may not have been a first-class Shakespearian company, a world ranking company. But it was, say what you will, a reasonably good company; and, more important still, it afforded our children a chance to see Shakespeare staged.
Until then so many youngsters knew Shakespeare only as an Elizabethan who wrote plays they were forced to study; as someone whose tiresome words they were compelled to write laboriously . as impositions.
They thought of Shakespeare as a book, of Hamlet as just a character in that book, of "Henry IV, Part II," as some in- explicable thing that followed something
called "Henry IV, Part I."
Then, when a chance did come to show adolescent minds that Shakespeare's plays could be entertaining - even "good fun," which children look for in almost everything - the chance was denied them.
WE ourselves, the supposed adult
theatre-going public of Mel bourne, did not treat Mr. Alden and his group much better. Why?
Because it was John Alden, an Aus- tralian, playing Lear and Shylock and Bottom and Mr. Ford. It was not Sir Laurence Olivier, Sir Ralph Richardson, John Gielgud, or even (at a pinch) Donald Wolflt.
Had it been any of those overseas stars -with the same company in support of them - I suggest there would have been queues, blackmarketing in tickets, dinner parties, and the like.
Admittedly, Alden is not the fine actor these other men are. He is not the perfect Lear (or Bot- tom or Ford or Shylock). And his company, though it contains some com- petent players, is not a first-rate company. It has its weaknesses but it has improved even during the short Mel- bourne season. But what could do a power of good would be the ideas and discipline of an overseas producer (preferably Brit- ish) of unquestioned repute.
AS it stands, how- ever, we owe it our patronage. Did you, in the twenties, wait for Gladys Moncrieff to become Williamson's greatest star before you flocked to see her?