26/04/2013 at 7:40 pm Leave a comment

presented by The New Theatre, April 2013

ANZAC Day. We remember the fallen. Reflect on our past. For me, it’s a memorial to something I never knew – for others, something more personal, a display of history and pride. For some it’s a demonstration of our national character (whatever that means), or just a day off work to get smashed and gamble. There’s a lot of hand-wringing over words like ‘celebrate’ or ‘militarisation’. Jostling for moral high-ground, politicising the dead, even one ill-advised tweet suggesting Two-Up winnings might be used to purchase a particular brand of burgers. And don’t even start me on Christopher Pyne (no, really, start me on Christopher Pyne)… Everybody seems to want to own a piece of the ANZACs, or tell you how to remember, or how to feel. It really is – if anything is: “A funeral for the living”.

Whether by accident or design this Patrick White play opened last night (April 25th) in the historic New Theatre, and we couldn’t help but extrapolate the metaphor to the pseudo-intellectualisation of something we will never really understand. Whether it’s War or History or The Classics or a Loveless Marriage, White’s play relentlessly mocks the self-absorption-of-the-artist-as-a-young-man trying to go through life as an exercise in studious query. The hubris is dizzying.

Our self-announced protagonist: the Young Poet. Educated, Well-Read, Articulate, Perceptive, full-of-Ideas, Never-Had-a-Real-Job.

Sound like anyone you know?

Meanwhile, the action centres around the basement kitchen-table-war-zone of Mrs Lusty and the eponymous funeral for her husband; her joie-de-vivre is an inspirational counterpoint to the middle-class pretensions of her tenant. The play doesn’t shy away from pouring acid onto the working classes either, but its expressionistic tone gets one wondering how much of this occurs in the mind of the bourgeois reader*. The exaggerated filth of the Two Ladies, the leering, sneering relatives, all press on the Young Poet’s fear and privilege. Their aphorisms are certainly no more or less in weight than his (although one or two carry a brutality of truth he seems incapable of finding) – on the other hand, the aspirational truths spoken by the mysterious Woman-Next-Door offer an impossible fantasy, enticing him out of the slum to which he is so drawn. These conflicting worlds-within-worlds create a tasty tension between what is real and what is projected. Honey on salted ham.

As such the play reflects the Australian self-conciousness of identity as a vital, visceral grotesque, ‘real and unreal as your face in the glass’. The darkness perhaps overpowering the light (on the night I was present at least) as the sheer vertiginous language can make short shrift of an actor caught napping. Here are plenty of laughs amongst the poetry and vicious swinging barbs. It’s a whirlwind. Despite these challenges the ensemble work is strong and beguiling, and (as overheard in the foyer afterwards) “with a degree of difficulty of 10”, there’s plenty for the team to work with. Special Mention must be given to Lucy Miller – we so rarely single out actors – but this is a consummate performance of a hugely demanding, once-in-a-lifetime role. If you’re unfamiliar with Patrick White (and let’s be honest, who isn’t?), this is a great opportunity to dip your toe in the muck.

The Ham Funeral by Patrick White, playing at The New Theatre until May 25th, 2013. Featuring Danielle Baynes, Rob Baird, Steve Corner, Brielle Flynn, Zach McKay, Lucy Miller, Kallan Richards, Karina Sindicich, and Benjamin Vickers. Directed by Phillip Rouse.

*with apologies to Sonic Youth

Entry filed under: Inside Theatre REVIEWS, Sydney THEATRE. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , .


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