Speaker by Various Artists

Before The Office, there was Glide Time

by Roger Hall

Roger Hall is the most successful playwright of his generation in New Zealand. Glide Time was his first major hit, running to several back-to-back seasons in each of the cities it was first performed. It went on to become a television series, with a sequel, Market Forces, and remains one of the most performed works on the New Zealand stage. This month, the Silo Theatre celebrates the 30th Anniversary of Glide Time with a production at the Maidment Theatre (which also turns thirty this year).

Interestingly, one of the first reviews of the first ever production of Glide Time was penned by Ian Fraser, who went on to become the most recent ex-CEO of TVNZ. Public Address has unearthed that review and reprints part of it here, and Roger Hall recalls for Public Address the world in which Glide Time was set: Wellington in the 1970s.

Glide Time by Roger Hall
Circa Theatre, Wellington
Reviewed by Ian Fraser for ACT Magazine, September 1977. (ACT was founded in 1967 by playwright Bruce Mason.)

Before Glide Time, Roger Hall had been known as managing director of a cottage industry in review scripts and author of the odd television play. He had also scripted, with Joe Musaphia, the old NZBC's "satirical" television series, In View of the Circumstances, a production so bound about with menopausal fears, bureaucratic red-tape and general ineptitude that it is surprising, in retrospect, that it saw the light of day at all. Now, with his first play for the stage, he has been called from the lesser slopes of Parnassus where he has laboured so mightily and long. Per ardua ad Circa.

The elevation has been worth the wait. Glide Time at Wellington's Circa Theatre turns out to be a tightly-structured, well-observed comedy, taking as its inspiration and having as its butt the manners and customs of the public service.

Hall's bleak thesis, fleshed out on stage in the lives of the members of the stores section of a large government department, is that life in the public service is barren and wasteful, a long preparation for a short retirement and the endless silence of the grave. To help pass the time there are furtive inter- and extra-office affairs (no less an authority than the professor of public administration at Victoria University has informed me that, contrary to the public prejudice, the state services are steaming cauldrons of vice and passion); there is gossip, there is grasping for promotion (one absent member of the office is said to have been "promoted beyond his level of competence six times"), and there are such necessary diversions as narrow xenophobia and a passion for rugby football.

The lives of almost all the characters in Glide Time are shown to be in some way blighted. It is a mark of the success of this excellent play that Mr Hall is able to arouse sympathy for the plight of his characters while maintaining comic energy.

Playwright Roger Hall's next contribution will probably be a farce revolving around the activities of a number of couples at a plush Taupo vacation cottage. The play's not written yet, but he has a title: the comedy will be called Middle Age Spread. I can hardly wait.

Ian Fraser

Do You Remember What It Was Like?
Roger Hall recalls the 1970s.

Chances were that if you were in the work force in the 1970s, you were a public servant.
It was difficult NOT to be a public servant. In the first place there were far more Government Departments then. But if you were a teacher, a nurse, if you worked for the railways or the airlines, all these and more, you were a public servant.

And this, along with decent holidays and superannuation and knowing what everyone else in your department got paid, meant you could join the PSIS, the Public Service Investment Society.
And that was a pretty big perk.

For example, you could get a second mortgage (about the most you could borrow on a first mortgage was 75%, the rest you made up with a cash deposit and then took out a second mortgage) and PSIS provided those for reasonable rates of interest.

Their retail store gave you 12.5% off everything. In those days when retail goods were unbelievably expensive, this was worth having, and every lunch-time the Wellington store was thronged daily with public servants in walk shorts brooding over Bell colour TVs.

Lunch-times were, of course, the full hour, plus everyone had morning and afternoon tea breaks. The official working day was seven hours 35 minutes, and you signed on in the morning and off at night, and went home on a Friday night with a spring in your step knowing life was work-free until Monday morning.

Well no, not exactly, because in those days men had to work around the house: apart from mowing the lawns and cleaning the car (no namby-pamby car-washes then) they also probably had to do alterations within the house, or paint, decorate and wallpaper, or paint the roof or build a garage. Do-it-yourself went with being a bloke.

Of course, the big snag about the 1970s was we didn't have democracy, we had Muldoon. (I saved that topic for another play - The Rose - a piece that gained critical acclaim but very little public affection.)

But that was the world when Glide Time was first performed, on August 11th 1976 in the tiny (96 seats) auditorium that was the recently-formed Circa Theatre. Have we all changed so much? Well yes we have. But have Government Departments changed that much...? That, I am waiting to hear.

How did it go on that first night? It was the stuff of dreams. The very first line ("Wellington, I hate you") got a laugh. Even the set got a laugh. The shock of recognition as people watched onstage a world and characters they knew, people they mixed with every day of their working lives, delighted the audience. This was something new. The first half went well, the second half went even better as various time bombs I'd set in the first half exploded satisfactorily in the second. And it wasn't all laughs-there were moments of poignancy as well. Cheers, bows for the cast, then bows for author and director.

Afterward everyone jammed into the tiny foyer and talked and talked (I suppose we ate and drank as well, but I can't remember what). And then a young woman approached me and asked when I had worked for the Statistics Department. I assured her that I never had. She looked shocked. 'But that's impossible," she said. "You must have!"

I knew then I was made. And indeed I was. Glide Time changed my life.