FESTIVAL OF ARTS – The Ham Funeral – Odeon – 4.5K

There are many fitting reasons why undertaking Patrick White’s The Ham Funeral is an appropriate venture at this year’s Festival by the State Theatre Company. White himself was born 100 years ago this year and 50 years ago, the Festival Governors declined to stage it at the second Adelaide festival for fear of want of appeal. (Consequently, the challenge was taken up by the Adelaide University Theatre Guild to great renown.)

A young poet occupies an upstairs room in the grim, black home of two fat old timers, Alma and Will Lusty. When the old boy falls off the perch suddenly, relatives are called in to attend his Ham funeral and after which the young man finds himself the centre of Mrs L’s amorous attention.

Academics have struggled to provide definitive versions of exactly what this play is all about. (Of course, none dare criticise the work of a Nobel Laureate). For the young poet, upstairs in his failed thoughts and romantic imagination, confronting the real world of survival, boredom and death is an, at times, shocking one.

For Alma Lusty, reflections on aging, philandering, loneliness and togetherness in a world that predates all the modern adventures of technology when Will’s sudden befalls him produces a well of emotions. Together, though separte by 50 years of age, their dilemmas are similar.

As for the production, this is one of the STC’s best shows. Ailsa Paterson and her design team perfectly create that sense of the dark and the bleak in the Lusty household that is overwhelming, even the lighting seemed to carry a coal grey filter with everything – the sink, the walls, and even the bread – black. Against this backdrop, the modernity of the young poet stands out as does the subject of his imagination, not to mention the bizarre nature of the relatives who come to the funeral. Adam Cook’s assured direction ensures this is so.

But as for performances, this is really a two person show. Luke Clayson as the Young Man does okay but given White’s own directions for the role were ‘a mixture of the intent and the absent, aggressiveness and diffidence’ may be nothing much more could be expected – that is hardly a straight forward brief. But, no matter, the show is totally dominated by Amanda Muggleton as Mrs L. Muggleton commands the stage tearing between trauma, humour, farce and unbridled lust with perfect measure and timing. Her angst never lets up, hardly a moment of the real self doubts of the persona are allowed to be seen, though we can safely assume they are there.

Staging The Ham Funeral can be rightly regarded as a risk production, hence totally suited for the Adelaide Festival but despite the mysteries of the meaning of it all, no theatre goer should be deterred by that potemtial from attending for The Ham Funeral is great entertainment, superbly presented and dominated by Muggleton in a stand out performance.

1 comment

  1. I saw The Ham Funeral last Monday and can attest to what degree the audience loved the production. An unusual play by an unusual playwright, The Ham Funeral was staged almost exactly as Patrick White required it to be staged. The acting was uniformly sustained throughout with Amanda Muggleton giving a first class performance. I give her 12/10. It is a difficult role but she gave it her all, even eating off the floor. It is well worth seeing since, as they say, Adelaide has ‘grown up’. How dare ‘they’ not put it on in the sixties. How sensibilities have changed in a short time and for the better as far as the Arts are concerned.

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