Donna Sue Robson is a freelance writer and essayist specialising in the arts, Latin dance; & natural & alternative therapies for people and pets. Check out her own energy-healing consultancy and boutique natural products at www.jamienatural.com
How to not murder your wife and claim to be a murderer
Elwood Social Club Productions spearheaded by Kieran Bullock, show brilliant comedic timing and script respect. When asked: 'Who directed the play', Bullock replied: it just directed itself, it's the nature of the script'. This is a company that really understands the quintessential elements of British farce.
Funeral Games, written by British farce master Joe Orton, has enjoyed an extensive season at The Owl and the Cat Theatre, as part of Melbourne International Comedy Festival. It is wonderful to see classic farce included in Melbourne's ever-expanding festival and see that our home-grown amateur talent is being recognised and taking their rightful place on the world stage.
It is wonderful to see Victorian-based, amateur theatre companies included in the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Hosted by The Owl and The Cat, Funeral Games gives us an appetite for theatrical comedy and helps to unite Melbourne's arts community.
Consider the title: Funeral Games. This is a farce, and a British farce, at its best and strongest. Funeral Games was first performed on Yorkshire Television in 1968 as part of their drama series, Seven Deadly Virtues, which called for audiences to identify upon which deadly virtues (justice, prudence, temperance, fortitude, faith, hope and charity) each performance focussed. Funeral Games, which remains a popular hour-long play within amateur theatre, is a biting satire on Christian charity, as it attacks hypocrisy, religion and middle-class morality. By its very nature, Funeral Games is black humour, a hallmark of Orton's work and raise the roof as it puts outrageous characters in surreal situations.
David Massingham's (McCorquodale) 'old-man' gestures and movement are superb. He is an actor who has flair for physical comedy.
Indeed, 'surreal' is the name of the game, which is always at the heart of great farce. The plot is almost too ridiculous to remember, let alone describe! But try this on for size: mild-mannered cult leader and narcissist vicar (Pringle) hires a criminal thug (Caulfield) to follow his wife Tess to prove that she is having an affair with an ageing, fragile and morally bankrupt defrocked Catholic priest, (McCorquodale). Through windows of the past, investigative stalking and paranoid overdrive, we learn that real-life affairs and religious rivalry between the two priests has buried history which reveals more skeletons in the closet. Let the games begin.
Kieran Bullock (Caulfield and Funeral Games Director) didn't have to do much to get a laugh. His actor presence and intuitive understanding of farce is inspired.
Tessa's innocence is irrelevant and as crazed egos, cults, gender warfare and marital indiscretions are revealed and fabricated beyond belief. The problem is that evidence is clearly needed to make 'the story stick', and there is plenty of murderous evidence under the cellar door. Just how evidence is tampered and manipulated makes for funeral games without any real rules. Solutions and agreements extend farce to totally absurdist conclusions.
Funeral Games crams relentless energy into a one-hour block of British farce at its best. 'Join Elwood Social Club for a cup of tea- just don't open the cake tin.
Elwood Social Club Productions, driven by Kieran Bullock, deliver an 'oh-so- slick' and well-timed production, building dramatic mayhem and comedic ease. This tight ensemble cast, also known for 39 Steps, exude an obvious on-stage respect for one another, as well as for the masterful script that each actor totally embodies. Elwood's timing is so crisp and their cadences well-executed, that the production's direction is noteworthy. Bullock is humble: 'we all directed it- or it just happened that way because it is all in the script'. Elwood Social Club delivers high-quality comedy theatre and their literary judgement matches their artistry.
Elwood performers 'gel'. They not only understand their own characters, but instinctively know what makes a farce work: using silence to make the moment, how quick-witted dialogue drive the ridiculous and use over-the-top archetypal physical humour to confuse, bemuse and involve audience in the melodrama. This performance of Funeral Games has all of the hallmarks of a theatre company who not only have passion for this genre, but who have put in the hard-yards to make it a Festival yardstick.
Pringle (James Rosier) plots to kill his innocent wife to save his own dodgy reputation.
The cast of James Rosier (Pringle), Kieran Bullock (Caulfield), Jennifer Ashley (Tessa) and scene-stealer David Massingham (McCorquodale) maintain their British middle-class accents and have given their all to create authentic idiosyncratic gesture and idiom. It is however, Jennifer Ashley who gives a stand-out performance as she not only slots seamlessly into-the ensemble cast but commands individual presence at each plot twist. As Funeral Games almost centres on Tessa's compliance and conscious, she is the centrepiece around whom dodgy men collapse into absurdity and crime.
If there was one stand-out performance within this flawless and impeccably rehearsed play, it is Jennifer Ashley. She gives Tessa idiosyncratic British grace and delivers witty, fast-tongued verbal-exchange that sharpens the show and contrasts its male and female characters.
Funeral Games showcases excellent production skills: sound tech is by Peter Thomas and Jess Walsh is credited with lighting. This is a clean and beautifully edited production piece, using sound and light to place the play into its historical, cultural context, Britain in the late 1960s. This makes Funeral Games appealing to all of our sensory fields.
'Your husband is outside- he is here to murder you.' Funeral Games remains a popular farce with amateur theatre companies in the English-speaking world.
Congratulations to Elwood Social Club Productions, MICF and The Owl and the Cat Theatre for Funeral Games: it is a crowd-teaser, pleaser and one of the most memorable and surprising events of this year's comedy festival. Funeral Games concludes on Good Friday, heck subsequent shows and make a night of it. You will not be disappointed.
If you love farce and satire, watch out for more performances from Elwood Social Club Productions. They have really set the standard in this genre.