Left – Laura Burzacott, Amy Lehpamer, Zoy Frangos. Photo – Gerard Assi
G'day there! Here, have an Anzac biscuit and an Aussie flag. Don't forget to wave it! Happy Bicentenary - it's 1988. Onya Australia! My entry into St Kilda's TheatreWorks for the premier of Margaret Fulton: Queen of the Dessert was certainly memorable, if a little disorienting. The cast handed out the biscuits and flags while a full band cranked out a never-ending paen to 1988 Aussie-ness as the audience seated themselves and nibbled on their Anzacs. Meanwhile, there was I thinking the cultural cringe went out with the naughties. Still, what comedy can pass on an opportunity for a little 80s bashing?
The Margaret Fulton Cookbook has sold 1.5 million copies since its appearance in 1968, and changed the way Australians cook and appreciate food along the way. This musical comedy covers Fulton's life before and after, all the way from struggling war bride to recognised living national treasure, three times married and the grand mother of all subsequent Aussie food icons (Maggie, Stephanie, Peter, and so on).
The stage is a kitchen, and Margaret Fulton (Amy Lehpamer) is in a spot of trouble due to some bad financial advice. This set-up serves as reason to kick off a reminisce through Maggie's life, back to better times - the highs as well as the lows.
Writer Doug MacLeod and Composer Yuri Worontchak weave an often cunning and inventive musical path between these dots - full credit to them for crafting songs about pressure cookers and jam, though for shear title honours, nothing can top the "Margaret Fulton Aussie Icon Living National Treasure Blues" heard early on. The cast rarely stop singing, though in some cases it seemed like songs were searching for a plot hook to hang on - a vibrant tribute to swingin' sixties London didn't trigger much of a reaction initially, since the relevance seemed missing.
This is a self-admitted low budget production, staged as a work in development (interestingly, crowd-funded through www.pozible.com), and it certainly could use a little tightening in places, as well as a little filling out in others. The 1988 opening bookend is completely forgotten about at the end, while the overall mood of the play slips into a sentimentalism that jars with the energetic first three quarters. Nevertheless, the small budget is gotten around in some amusing ways - stage entries and exits are frequently via one of the kitchen cupboards
The cast couldn't be faulted for the levels of energy displayed on the night, and special mention should go to Lehpamer, fresh from a lead role in Rock of Ages, always a charismatic and engaging presence on stage. And it seemed Josh Price was designated master of funny voices for the many supporting roles he played; fortunately, he pulled them off with panache and excellent comic timing.
The cherry on top of an already fun night was the fact that the dame herself was in attendance. At curtain call, Margaret Fulton was given a bunch of flours (you know: plain, wholemeal, self-raising - it's a joke too good not to use). While it made for quite the buzz at the end of the show, I can imagine her presence fairly electrified the cast and crew.
Present Tense in association with Theatre Works presents
MARGARET FULTON: Queen of the Dessert
by Doug Macleod and Yuri Worontschak
Directed by Bryce Ives and Nathan Gilkes
Venue: Theatre Works | 14 Acland St, St Kilda
Dates: 16 Nov - 1 Dec 2012
Time: 3pm, 6pm, 7pm, 8pm, 9.30pm
Tickets: $45 full / $30 conc & under 30s / $25 preview
Bookings: www.theatreworks.org.au | 9534 3388