Director Philip Rouse proves that the play which revolutionised Australian theatre still has a contemporary edge.
Almost 52 years since the world premiere of Patrick White’s, The Ham Funeral, director Philip Rouse proves the play which revolutionised Australian theatre still has a contemporary edge.
A sometimes grotesque examination of the human condition, inspired in part by the William Dobell painting, The Dead Landlord, the play is set in a damp boarding house in London. It begins with the young poet (Rob Baird) addressing the audience about the play, which we are assured, is, as usual, ‘a piece about eels’. Guided by his alter ego (Danielle Baynes) the poet moves from a place of innocent romanticism to embroilment in a comically tragic sexual game with his landlady. Act One introduces the landlady, Alma Lusty (Lucy Miller) and her husband Will Lusty (Zach McKay). When Alma decides to invite their tenant for tea, Will appears as a lifeless character whose only audible noises for the most part are his heavy breaths. It quickly becomes clear that all is not right in the house, with the mention of the Lustys’ dead infant son and previous accidents on the eerie stairwell. Will has a moment of brief animation when he confronts Alma about her affairs, before collapsing on the floor. After she recruits the poet to help her with Will’s body, Alma sets about planning a grandiose funeral at which the mourners will eat ham. From this point, her boisterous vulgarity grows, reaching a peak in Act Two when Mr Lusty’s four hilarious cousins come to the funeral.
Baird’s character undergoes the most significant development over the course of the play, in a challenging role which he takes some time to settle into. More solid is the performance of Miller as the libidinous landlady. McKay and the other relatives (played by Kallan Richards, Benjamin Vickers and Steve Corner) provide a coarse, edgy humour at the funeral. Bridle Flynn and Karina Sindicich play suitably gothic scavengers who stumble upon a macabre secret.
The set, featuring props mostly sourced from local second hand shops, is suitably dingy and successfully transforms the stage into a post war London boarding house. The costuming is also successful in adding to the tone, particularly in the second act where the grieving widow wears an over the top black lace dress.
White’s writing is superb, and beautifully poetic in parts. Directors have previously described some of his prose as being difficult to manage. Philip Rouse’s production tackles it with skill and poise in the New Theatre.
Rating: 3 ½ stars out of 5
The Ham Funeral
By Patrick White
Directed by: Philip Rouse
Costume Designer: Anna Gardiner
Lighting Designer: Sian James- Holland
Production Manager: Merryn Schofield
Assistant Director: Rachel Chant
Stage Manager: Lamai Thompson- Long
Cast: Zach McKay, Lucy Miller, Rob Baird, Danielle Baynes, Karina Sindicich, Brielle Flynn, Kallan Richards, Benjamin Vickers and Steve Corner
The New Theatre, Newtown
23 April – 25 May