Monthly Archives: December 1970

1970.12.17: Impressive ‘Lakota’ (The Stage and Television Today, London)

Letter: Peter Whelan obituary

Playwright Peter Whelan

Playwright Peter Whelan. Photograph: Sean Smith for the Guardian

In 1971 I asked my old friend, Peter Whelan to write a music drama with me for the students at Hampstead school, London, where I was teaching. The result was Lakota, based on the 1890 massacre at Wounded Knee Creek. It played at the Cockpit theatre. Peter directed. We had one review in The Stage – a very good one. It was, I believe, the beginning of his great creative period.

The Stage and Television Today, December 17, 1970
Impressive ‘Lakota’

POLITICAL THEATRE, when too direct in its advances, is less likely to make any converts than if it moves in a manner both circumspect and easily palatable. “Lakota,” the teenage opera performed by students of the Hampstead School at the Cockpit on December 10, is most decidedly a political work yet it is a work which states its case in the subtlest of terms, and which, because of this, makes its point both clearly and entertainingly.

“Lakota” is concerned, in many respects, with similar material to that used by Arthur Kopit in “Indians” and by John Ford in his much under-rated film “Cheyenne.” This youthful and alive opera-drama is concerned with the last march and final annihilation of the Sioux Indians, at Wounded Knee Creek, in 1890. It is a harrowing story, here shown on an epic scale but with no loss of personality or feeling, and one with much relevance to present day situations. The clash of cultures is certainly something which have yet to erase from our civilisation.

Both the music, by Don Kincaid, and the book, by Peter Whelan, are sensitive to the needs of young people in the theatre, and in musical and operatic theatre in particular. Their opera-drama moves slowly, it develops carefully, facts are stated, personalities established, all in a manner to ensure attention from both the audience and the youthful acting-singing company.

Deserving of special praise are Rachel Neville, Michael Letwin and Patrick Melly, each of whom had a part of some depth and portrayed it convincingly.

The entire production was of a high standard, making one reflect on the massive advances education in the theatre has made over the last few years, and, above all, leaving surely all members of the audience with an infinite sense of pleasure. Certainly, for me, “Lakota” was one of the most extraordinarily moving theatre events in a long time. P.W.B.

Opera with book by Peter Whelan and music by Don Kincaid. Presented by students of the Hampstead School at the Cockpit on December 10. Costumes by Joyce McClellan; orchestra conducted by Tess Brennan. Directed by Peter Whelan and Don Kincaid.