'Mad, Muddy, Mess of Eels': Modern Theatre and Patrick White's Sensuous Dramaturgy

McDonald, Janet (2021) 'Mad, Muddy, Mess of Eels': Modern Theatre and Patrick White's Sensuous Dramaturgy. In: The Routledge Companion to Australian Literature. Taylor & Francis (Routledge), New York; London, pp. 75-82. ISBN 978-0-367-64356-0


Abstract

The line, ‘mad, muddy, mess of eels,’ spoken by the Young Man in his opening soliloquy (White 15) of The Ham Funeral, possibly conjures Patrick White’s own inner monologue regarding the state of dramatic censorship and stasis in Australian theatre in 1961. Although the play itself was written in 1947, and all but abandoned by White, its debut on the Australian stage (Adelaide, 1961) was fraught (messy and muddy) with artistic and moral differences that are well documented by scholars and biographers. And yet, the collaboration between White and John Tasker, White’s anointed director for the original performance of the play, provides some insight into how the internationally renowned novelist translated and transformed language for the stage. According to Robert F. Brissendon (290), it is a feat only several novelists have successfully achieved (where is it not an adaptation of a novel for the stage or film). He did not translate his novels, but acknowledged a hankering for the stage, no doubt encouraged by his mother who took him to see as much live theatre as possible in his youth. This chapter will consider the little-discussed use of dramaturgy as an active literary criticism method that renders a narrative live, through embodiment, the playwright’s intentions. Julian Meyrick asserts that White’s early plays demonstrate a ‘sense of the future’ of Australian theatre (1) and this chapter thus uses White’s The Ham Funeral as a case study for how he specifically defied traditional Australian dramatic convention of the mid-twentieth century in order to enhance new ways of writing plays for Australian audiences. His focus on the somatic rendering of the language in The Ham Funeral specifically requires live bodies to realise crucial dramatic meaning occurring at the interface between language and liveness.


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Item Type: Book Chapter (Commonwealth Reporting Category B)
Refereed: Yes
Item Status: Live Archive
Faculty/School / Institute/Centre: Current - Faculty of Business, Education, Law and Arts - School of Creative Arts (1 Mar 2019 -)
Faculty/School / Institute/Centre: Current - Faculty of Business, Education, Law and Arts - School of Humanities and Communication (1 Mar 2019 -)
Date Deposited: 10 Jan 2021 23:27
Last Modified: 02 Feb 2021 00:16
Uncontrolled Keywords: Patrick White, dramaturgy, Ham Funeral, Australian Theatre, somatic
Fields of Research (2008): 19 Studies in Creative Arts and Writing > 1904 Performing Arts and Creative Writing > 190404 Drama, Theatre and Performance Studies
Fields of Research (2020): 36 CREATIVE ARTS AND WRITING > 3604 Performing arts > 360403 Drama, theatre and performance studies
Socio-Economic Objectives (2008): C Society > 95 Cultural Understanding > 9501 Arts and Leisure > 950105 The Performing Arts (incl. Theatre and Dance)
Socio-Economic Objectives (2020): 13 CULTURE AND SOCIETY > 1301 Arts > 130104 The performing arts
Identification Number or DOI: https://doi.org/10.4324/9781003124160-11
URI: http://eprints.usq.edu.au/id/eprint/40489

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