The Ham Funeral
State Theatre Company of South Australia @ Odeon Theatre
11:00am, Wed 14 Mar 2012
There’s nothing like dragging your arse out of bed at (comparatively) silly o’clock in the morning and wandering down The Parade having a progressive breakfast as you go: OJ at one place, heart-starter espresso at another, something more substantial around the corner from The Odeon. By the time I get there for this (retrospectively) ill-advised matinée, I’m vaguely awake; when I take my seat, I’m surrounded by schoolies, and looking down over a sea of silver-tops.
The first thing that strikes you about The Ham Funeral is the set: it’s pretty bloody special, with two viciously raked levels making you feel like the set was coming towards you. It’s also doused in monochromatic styling, right down to the teacups and bread; despite the lack of colour, the effect is really quite striking. And while Luke Clayson’s Young Man impresses with his early soliloquy, when the Landlord and Landlady (Jonathon Mill and an incredible Amanda Muggleton) are on the stage, he is blown off it.
The Ham Funeral has loneliness (and its distractor, love) at its core, and the Landlord and -lady cover the extremes… until he dies, whereupon the Landlady becomes almost bipolar with grief-stricken loneliness and lust. The Young Man – a poet – tries to stay at arm’s length from companionship, but his alter-ego – the gorgeously angelic Lizzy Falkland – teases him from across the hall in his lodgings. The scenes where they interact reveal some of the best moments of stagecraft in the production: the snippet where the light catches Falkland’s outstretched hand is just sublime.
The second Act opens with the funeral of the Landlord; and with the wake comes the family, hidden behind garish clown makeup, who proceed to torture his former wife for taking him away from his former circus life. The set is accented with black balloons, but colour is injected via the titular ham. The Landlady, bereft from her husband’s absence, starts flirting outrageously with the Young Man, conflating him with her departed lover (Muggleton revelling in the physical scenes); his rejection emphasises the absence, and when the Young Man realises that his alter-ego no longer inhabits the room across from his, he decides it’s time to leave.
Despite being written by Australian writer Patrick White (the only Aussie to have received the Nobel Prize for Literature!), The Ham Funeral is rarely performed; in fact, the Q&A session that followed this performance emphasised the fact that the world premiere of the play was in Adelaide in 1961. And this rendition of the play is certainly high on production values: as mentioned before, the set is amazing, and is very nearly matched in quality by the costumes… the monochromatic aesthetic is all-encompassing. The text of the play, too, is really enjoyable – I loved the little bits of wordplay in a twisty-turny script.
In all, I found it a really worthwhile trek out to Norwood for this performance, and didn’t even mind the soaking rain on the way home. And, perched as I was down the back of the Odeon, I had the opportunity to scribble down notes to myself during The Ham Funeral – something that’s all too rare these days, since the last thing I want to do is give anyone anywhere ever the impression that I’m “reviewing”. And it’s a good thing, too, since anyone glancing over my notes would have discovered that they were little more than gushing over Lizzy Falkland. A few comments about the set, to be sure, but mostly Lizzy.