- Category : Writers-Playwright-script
- Type : GP
- Profile : 1/3 - Investigating / Martyr
- Definition : Triple Split
- Incarnation Cross : RAX Service 3
New Zealand playwright, critic and novelist, and a leading force in founding New Zealand’s first professional theatre, Downstage, in Wellington in 1964. He was a music critic with a weekly column "Music on the Air" for NZ Listener 1964-69; theatre critic for the Wellington newspapers, the Dominion 1958-60 and 1973-80 and Evening Post 1980-82; and editor of Act magazine 1967-70.
His family moved to Takapuna when he was five where his experiences formed the basis of his most famous work, "The End of the Golden Weather." He graduated with a BA in 1945 from Victoria University College where he was active in drama and in the literary magazine "Hilltop."
After service with the New Zealand Army 1941-43, and the Naval Volunteer Reserve 1943-45, he married Diana Shaw, a Wellington obstetrician, who continued to promote his work.
From 1951 to 1957 Mason was senior public relations officer for the New Zealand Forest Service. From 1960 to 1961 he was editor of the Maori news magazine Te Ao Hou. He was awarded an honorary degree by Victoria University in 1977 and a CBE in 1980, and in 1996 the Bruce Mason Theatre was opened on the North Shore.
In his first major success, The "Pohutukawa Tree," 1960, revised 1963, first performed by the New Zealand Players Theatre Workshop in Wellington in 1957, and produced on BBC TV in 1959, Mason critiqued both Pakeha and Maori societies.
In the following decade he created what for a time he called "Te Hoe Pakaru / The Broken Gourd," but later published as "The Healing Arch," 1987. This is a cycle of five plays which focus on Maori culture since European contact. Recorded for radio in 1965 by Inia Te Wiata and the cast of Porgy and Bess (the New Zealand Opera Company), it is a simple story of unmasking youthful deception, but shows how (in the stage direction) "everywhere in their lives, Maori and European rituals are mixed without incongruity." Maori culture also gave Mason a perspective from which to scrutinize his own. His critique of Pakeha society asks, ‘What kind of a society can develop under corrugated iron?’ It began with "The Evening Paper," 1953, one of a domestic quartet of plays. It was produced as a TV play, "a sour little piece" about a New Zealander returning from overseas to a stifling suburban life.
Mason’s works revealed how he longed for a larger life than he saw possible in society today. All his works, including his fiction, draw on such literary models as
Sophocles’ Greece, O’Casey’s Ireland, Faulkner’s South, or Chekhov’s and Nabokov’s Russia, to articulate and mythologize a dull, parochial landscape. Like Bernard Shaw, Mason mingled sophisticated artistry with political activism, because he always believed in the galvanizing social function of theatre, especially amateur theatre. His own oeuvre covered the genres of fiction, poetry, theatre, radio, television and journalism. Only opera is missing, although many of his plays (Awatea, Swan Song, Blood of the Lamb) are highly operatic. His works tend to be predominately narrative in style, punctuated by ritual. One reviewer called him ‘a Don Quixote tilting away at a landscape that doesn’t quite live up to his heroic aspirations’. Highly cultured and literate, he nevertheless longed to make contact with the ‘average New Zealander’.
He died of cancer in Wellington, New Zealand on 31 December 1982.