October 27, 2011


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Lexie Matheson                posted 24 Oct 2011, 01:23 PM

Thanks for posting the quote from Proc’s book ‘All My Lives’.

I have to agree with the sentiments certainly as they relate to the period Proc was writing about.

There are times in all our lives it would seem when paths cross and, somehow, mine seemed inextricably linked to Mervyn’s as our journeys interacted academically, through the theatre and on the sports field.

I knew him first as a rugby player where he was something of an enigma. I was very young – 18 or so – and, while at teacher’s college in Christchurch, was singled out to play for the ‘Teachers’ team even though the other players were graduates and already practicing teachers and I was still a mere first year student. It was an honour of sorts as many of the players had achieved representative honours and I was still a year or so short of that.

As a centre threequarter I played outside a 2nd five – Thompson – who I considered a brilliant player but who was somewhat erratic in his personal life. Having grown up in a rugby environment of hard training, clean gear, polished boots and punctuality, Mervyn’s habits were a bit of a shock as sometimes he didn’t turn up at all on playing days and I can recall a couple of occasions when we arrived to notes pinned to the changing shed doors saying he wouldn’t be available for one reason or another. One note read ‘Can’t play today. Got married this morning’. Between the lines, all the reasons for the unpredictable nature of his personal life are contained in ‘First Return’ if you look closely enough and it’s worth the effort. I say again, he was a brilliant player and quite simply my rugby hero at the time.

In 1964 I met him again, but this time as a lecturer in English at Canterbury University. He was charismatic and I can still hear his voice when I read some of the poetry that he introduced us to at that time. He was the first person to talk to me about ‘the magic of words’. My master’s thesis – on the governance and management history of the Mercury Theatre – is riddled with quotes from Thompson.

Our paths crossed many times during our theatre lives and I had the privilege of undertaking workshops with him, being directed by him, touring with him and acting with him onstage. Privilege is the right word as he was truly a theatre genius. I spent a small amount of time with him during his final months, by circumstance rather than design, and was dreadfully sad when he passed away so young.

There was, of course, the other side to Proc which is well recorded in other forums, novels and histories. I came across that side of him also and freely admit that it wasn’t very attractive but I like to feel that, in his own tortured way, he paid for it in a manner that was appropriate.

The theatre in Aotearoa/New Zealand has evolved and changed since the ‘70’s and ‘80’s and attitudes to gender, sexuality and sport have evolved too. I’ve seen excellent new plays on the topic of rugby this year which have addressed much of the content that earlier productions evaded, and the role of the male in the theatre – particularly when addressing male sporting issues – seems far more in tune with society than ever before. It’s now more than OK for an actor to admit to enjoying sport – and rugby in particular – than it was during the 70’s and ‘80’s and that has to be a good thing. The nature of theatre itself will look after the edginess needed to critically evaluate our society without the artificiality of actors, despising the content of what put money in their paypacket as was once the case, and feeling the need to explain to audiences that ‘this may be a play about rugby but I am an actor and I don’t really approve’.

Personally, I can’t see much difference between a Dan Carter, a Jared Rawiri, a Brendon McCullum or a Neil Ieremia. They’re all excellent at what they do – stars even –have magnificent physicality, sharp, clever minds, wonderful integrity and a classic Kiwi no-quitting spirit. What’s not to applaud?

Proc would approve – and that’s not a bad thing either.

John Smythe      posted 24 Oct 2011, 02:39 PM

Agreed, we have come a long way. I recall being astonished when I was in Melbourne, back in the 1970s, that it was standard for academics and artists to be passionate supporters of a VFL team.  Of course Greek theatre festivals – where theatre as we know it began – we very competitive and hugely popular. People flocked to the arena to see what the gods and mortals – with whom they were already familiar – would come up with next. T’was ever thus. The more things change, etc.

Michael Wray    posted 25 Oct 2011, 11:00 AM

It’s funny that you should reference greek theatre and sports at this time, John. Funny for me, I mean. Just last night I started reading Roger Robinson’s Heroes & Sparrows in which he talks about the apparent clash between sports and academia. (For those who don’t know, Roger is a very accomplished runner and taught English Literature at Vic here in Wellington, with an ongoing interest in the overlap between the two, as evidenced by such books as Running in Literature.) He observes that the English word academic, French word lycee and German word gymnasium (the latter two meaning grammar school) all come from the names of Greek athletic training centres and how arts & sports were originally intertwined.

I’m no rugby fan, but understand the passion for it, loving as much as I do both football and running. On many occasions I’ve been struck with how similar an experience the two forms can provide. It’s all drama and performance!

Al Bennett           posted 25 Oct 2011, 11:12 AM

 “I frequently walk out of the theatre early without fear of missing anything. But however bad I’ve felt, I’ve never left a football match early, because you never know when a miracle might occur.” – Sarah Kane.

John Smythe      posted 25 Oct 2011, 02:51 PM

Is it relevant to note that Sarah Kane walked out of her own life early? 

John Smythe      posted 25 Oct 2011, 07:15 PM

Then there was Bruce Mason, who resisted rugby and all it stood for throughout his education: “I knew it was the Test, our puberty rite, our induction in manly ways: I failed spectacularly.” But while serving with the Navy, he found that “uncompelled or coerced,” he could be “a quite serviceable wing three-quarter.”[i]

In 1982, the last year of his life, he wrote a TV play called The Garlic Thrust in which a young boy copes with a dysfunctional family relationship – his mum and her male mates heading for Hamilton to rough up the anti-Springbok tour protesters (1981) – by perfecting a rugby move to take his schoolboy rugby team to victory.

 [i] Bruce Mason, Landfall 20, June 1966, pp 143-9. 

Al Bennett           posted 26 Oct 2011, 11:18 AM

 “Is it relevant to note that Sarah Kane walked out of her own life early?” If you want to be a dick.

patrick graham posted 27 Oct 2011, 12:02 PM / edited 27 Oct 2011, 12:09 PM

John your continued slandering of Sarah Kane because she chose to end her life is just… actually I can’t put my anger into words.

You have made illinformed statements when talking about her plays and wrongly attributed plots to her plays.

Please do some research… here are few good sites to start with.





and there is an extremely good book writen about her work, her influences etc


I have acted in one of her plays in two seasons and worked hard on presentations of her work for my masters and some of your comments are downright silly

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