THEATRE: Funeral Games, Drill Hall, London
The song 'n' dance staging may stretch the bounds of Christian charity, but all is redeemed by the Wildean inversions of Joe Orton's bitter wit
Saturday 01 June 1996
Already renowned as a crack Wilde interpreter (for Bracknell and Lord Henry Wotton), Bourne now demonstrates an equivalent prowess with Orton. It is, of course, not that huge a leap since Orton's dialogue gets up to similar rhetorical tricks, pronouncing radically subversive sentiments in the cadences of reactionary dogmatism. In Funeral Games, a satiric farce on the idea of Christian charity, Bourne plays Pringle, a vicar who runs a shady sect called "The Brotherhood". His wife (ageless Aimi MacDonald) has befriended MacCorquodale, a decrepit, defrocked RC priest (Sylvester McCoy) whose own spouse languishes beneath a ton of smokeless coal in the rectory cellar.
Pringle wrongly suspects that there may be more to this friendship than bed-baths. "If my wife is committing adultery my position would be intolerable. Being completely without sin myself I'd have to cast the first stone." Reminded of the commandment to "Love thy neighbour", Pringle reminds the reminder that "the man who said that was crucified by his". Foiled in an attempt to kill his wife, he agrees simply to pose as her murderer and becomes a celebrity among the bloodthirsty faithful as a result. But the wife's complicity in this scheme, which involves her posing as MacCorquodale's spouse, becomes strained when human hands start turning up in Dundee cake tins.
Originally a TV play shown in 1968, the piece is now brought to the stage by Phil Willmott. It's good to witness an unfamiliar example of Orton's detached, serene ruthlessness, that capacity to see through things without necessarily seeing them first which enables him to emblematise Christianity here as "a bird of prey carrying an olive branch". The event is not without major irritations, however: while Bourne and MacDonald get the idiom spot- on, Adam Ant is sadly deficient in edge and weak in voice as Caulfield, the sexy bit of rough hired by Pringle as an investigator.
Then there's Willmott's decision to present the play as a musicalised police reconstruction of the crime, replete with badly executed song-and- dance routines. Orton used to emphasise that his work had to be played in earnest and not be camped up. But with skirted bobbies backing Aimi MacDonald in a needless rendition of "Keep Young and Beautiful" or intoning "Dem Bones, Dem Bones" while extracting clues from the coal-heap, the piece threatens to turn into a gay karaoke evening. The only significant addition it makes is to the running-time, suggesting that, in this case, it's not just the policeman's lot that is not a happy one.
To 22 June. Booking: 0171-637 8270
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