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September 25, 2006 | by  | in Theatre |
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VUW Fee Setting

University Fee Setting is an annual production performed by members of the University Council, much to the disdain of a certain group of students who (like members of the religious right with films like Baise Moi and The Anatomy of Hell) want very much to either stop it outright or disrupt it as much as humanly possible. Why? Apparently on the grounds that it is immoral to force people to pay for a tertiary education. As a critic I feel I have no right to dabble in the moral arguments of the great unwashed other than to say if they were protesting on aesthetic grounds, I would have stood with them whole-heartedly.

Because of the perceived risk to the safety of the performers and the performance from the protesters, security was tight: never before have I been forced to give up my possessions to a ruffian (the missing genetic link between primates and humans perhaps) and every other access point to the building was locked down. All this to protect the performance against a ten-strong band of protesters who ended up taking the principle of passivity to a whole new level of passiveness. It was beginning to become brutally obvious that the management of the theatre was suffering from a severe bout of overboarditis. Apparently, the same group of protesters (whom have been dwindling in number each year) have overtaken the theatre in years previous chanting “Resist, Occupy, Overcome!” and singing outmoded communist anthems. While I am somewhat glad that this did not happen, at least it would have livened the show up a little. As for chanting, and things like that, I have one word: abysmal. The height of their creativity was: “Get a degree, what do you get? Debt, debt, debt” and the juvenile and slightly obscure, “Pat is a wanker” directed at the Vice-Chancellor of the University, Professor Pat Walsh. But hey, at least it was amusing.

The set and costume were amazingly unimpressive. Almost all of the performers were dressed in a costume of conservative grey, blue and black suits. Student performers Nick Kelly and Cordelia Black were the only two to break the mould. Kelly was dressed in his trademark worn jeans and woolen jersey (one would have though that if you are performing with artists of this caliber you would at least dress up a little and make your presence known). While Black was dressed in a similar fashion to the other performers, she had taken the time to put on display more of her breast than humanly imaginable. While it too was rather inappropriate and extremely offputting, at least it was something to look at.

The performance was kicked off by an opening monologue, or a prologue of sorts, delivered dryly by the aforementioned Pat Walsh. It was exceedingly dull. Why esteemed and learned academics sully themselves and their reputations with matters as base as finance is beyond me. Certainly the subject is much better for someone who lives outside the bounds of polite society, an accountant perhaps. After his address, directed primarily at some faceless and shapeless ‘government’ who were ‘under funding’ (his words not mine) the University sector, he sat down. I didn’t even gather what his opinion about the whole affair actually was.

In an effort to accommodate the protesters, two of their number, were allowed to speak and outline their opposition to the afternoon’s performance. The first was rather droll but the second, dressed in a green fur suit for no particular reason, was at least mildly entertaining. There is a lot to be said for youthful pluck.

Two more monologues followed, neither of which contained an ounce of artistic credibility. The first amounted to dry, tasteless list of numbers and figures, something seriously unbecoming for any serious academic, in an attempt to confirm the statement of Walsh but again was rather confusing. Why on earth do theatre-goers need to know where the ‘government’ is allocating money in the Tertiary sector? I kept asking myself about the relevance of a performance of this sort but was unable to find any suitable answer. This was followed by Kelly who produced his own distasteful (although not quite as distasteful as his wardrobe) list of facts and figures in an attempt to rebut the previous performer.

Fortunately I was called away to a rather tragic emergency, and thus my sanity was preserved. I left thinking that either the performance was far too high-brow for the common audience member to ever comprehend or it was meaningless garbage. I am siding with the latter, but I am dogged by vacillation that suggests that there must have been meaning to the performance, and that it was just hidden by rhetoric and the ever confusing fog of post-modern symbolism.

Devised and performed by the members of the University Council Hunter Council Chamber, Monday 18 September

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About the Author ()

HAILING FROM the upper-middle- class hell of Havelock North, Jules is in the final semester of a bachelor’s degree in Trenchermanship (majoring in Gourmandry), is a self-professed Anarcho-Dandy and resides in the Aro Valley. He likes to spend his days pursuing whimsical follies of every sort and his evenings gallivanting through the bars and restaurants of Wellington in search of the perfect wine list. He has unfailingly dedicated his life to the excessive consumption of food and drink (despite having no discernable way of paying for it), and expects to die of simultaneous heart and kidney failure at thirty-nine. His only hope is that very soon people will start to pay him for his opinions (of which he is endowed with aplenty). Jules has a penchant for vintage Oloroso.

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