The State Theatre Company’s bold production of The Ham Funeral is playful, tragic and at times hilariously funny.
The Ham Funeral is one of Patrick White’s last four plays after a long break from play writing due his boredom of the form. First staged 50 years ago, the playfulness of this piece with its vaudevillian leanings is perfect in our contemporary scene with the updating and recent mainstreaming of cabaret and vaudeville theatre.
The Story: The Ham Funeral follows the journey of a young unworldly poet (Luke Clayson) as an emotionally distant boarder in the home of Mr and Mrs Lusty (Jonathan Mill and Amanda Muggleton) He becomes entranced by the couple when soon after, Mr Lusty dies. Mrs Lusty declares he must have a Ham Funeral and the young poet is to help her organise it. From this point on his innocence is wrung dry.
I was predisposed to like this production as I love the play and I love to see work from Adam Cook, Amanda Muggleton and Jonathan Mill. However, it does feel like we have seen much of this production before, perhaps largely due to the influence of Patrick White on Australian theatre (to whom contemporary theatre makers owe a great debt). Adam Cook has led the team to present, what one imagines, to be a true rendition of this piece; the same can be said of the design. Patrick White’s Literary Agent believes White would have loved this production also.
Upon entering the theatre the audience is presented with a comfortable yet energising rough theatre with a white textured curtain, (made from material you’d expect at Australian fashion week), which frames a single hatstand light, shining brightly. There is something comforting about a space like the Odeon Theatre due to its weathered intimacy, and the production crew, led by Ailsa Paterson (Designer) and Gavan Swift (Lighting Designer), have lovingly recreated this intimacy on stage with a contemporary use of design which feels like it could have been seen similarly 50 years ago.
Amanda Muggleton, Jonathan Mill, Geoff Revell and Jonathon Elsom command this style of theatre with the energy required of a vaudevillian and an assurance that keeps the audience engaged. Each of these actors ground the humanity and tragedy within the constant humour with the craft required of an Arthur Miller musical – if he had ever created one. Opening night did present a slower start for most of the cast, with the exception of Muggleton, Mill and Revell, which can be anticipated. Still, I laughed uncontrollably on several occasions.
IN THE FOYER:
Amanda Muggleton was justly much-loved and many stated that she drives it with such ease and enthusiasm that it’s difficult to consider this character without her playing it. A couple of late twenty-something’s stated that they struggled to hear the jokes but were fully engaged once the ‘Professional Ladies’ (Jacqy Phillips and Geoff Revell) made their entrance. Overall, there was a buzz and a joy in the foyer during intermission and after the play.
Finally, this is a production of The Ham Funeral that should definitely be seen. It is fun, exposing and at times hilarious.