Bohan’s childhood, spent growing up in Christchurch and Invercargill, was a happy one – he had a close family who were supportive of his academic and musical aspirations. His mother was a Scots-born Protestant and his father a New Zealand Irish Roman Catholic. This so-called ‘mixed’ marriage was censured by both sides of what was seen as a religious divide. The censorious Irish nuns and the grim Irish priests of the New Zealand Roman Catholic Church were particularly unrelenting in their disapproval: when Bohan was not sent to a Catholic school his father had to forgo communion during those years that his son attended high school. This withdrawal of religious grace is a reminder of the chill provincialism of New Zealand in the immediate post-war years. Some writers have made careers out such material but Bohan, in this memoir at least, does not come across as a reflective man and we get no sense of how these tensions shaped him.
Bohan liked the London life – he was a professional musician based in England from 1964 to 1987 – and the central section of the book is full of shop talk: jobs secured, roles sung, who was good to work with who was not. We get names and dates, what he sang and with whom, the usual comic stage business – the sword that wouldn’t draw during Don Giovanni, the costume that disintegrates during a performance of Dido and Aeneas – but there are too many roles, too much detail. Sometimes we may suspect the writer of emptying his diary onto the pages: the name of his childhood cat, his favourite Laurel and Hardy movie, the first time he was stung by a bee, too much!
RICHARD DINGWALL is a Dunedin writer and musician. He was formerly a regular arts columnist and reviewer for the Otago Daily Times.