The Ham Funeral

...Now none of this would matter at all had Patrick White the one gift essential for the theatre: that of riveting our attention, involving us in his action, and allowing our imaginations some explosion, at the very least, some happening. His play does everything it can to prevent our being enmeshed in it. His young-man chorus stands outside the action at the opening, then is in it; he soliloquises within the play about life and time and the cruelty of things and events; engaged in a scene with his landlord and landlady, he will address us in coy asides as well. There seems no action, no thought, which can come out to us unaccompanied by its obligatory metaphor or commentary. Most of these come from the young man, alternately called Jack or Fred, and it says much for the restraint and tact of Grant Tilly's playing that one didn't shy a boot at him.

The Glass Menagerie shows us, in devoted recall, a young man finding his vocation as a writer; The Ham Funeral attempts a similar excavation only to prove to us that though Patrick White is certainly a writer, it will not be for theatre. He constantly muzzes his conventions. He harangues us through his characters, underlining, underscoring; no character can speak for himself, except the landlord, who barely speaks at all.

All this is the territory f the novelist whose stream of words can take his reader where he wishes and as far as the reader wants to go. A novelist fills in the spaces between his characters' dialogue and this may be its best part; if a playwright does this, attention flees.

"The chief problem", writes Patrick White in his note to the Adelaide production of 1961, repeated here, "was how to project a highly introspective character on the stage without impeding dramatic progress". More than chief: this problem is insoluble, given Mr White's attitude to the drama and his audience. The Glass Menagerie, faced with exactly this aesthetic problem, shows what must be done: that the two worlds of narrator facing audience, and the action he is talking of and will become part of, must be absolutely separate and distinct....

...With all this, disliking the play so much I must now say that the parts of Mrs Lusty and her ventripotent, somnolent, stertorous husband could only have been written by a major writer; they are displaced persons from what might have been a powerful short story. The incident of the foetus in the dustbin is genuinely horrifying, marred only the the young man's sententious commentary. And the summoning of the mourners after the landlord's death was gripping, and finely produced by Miss Millar....

...Patrick White may well be a major novelist; for those who think so, I recommend a visit as an act of piety to their hero. I think after seeing it, they may share my relief that he, like Thomas Wolfe, deserted the theatre.