Margaret Fulton The Musical.
Adapted from the book “I Sang For My Supper” by Margaret Fulton. Book and Lyrics by Doug MacLeod. Directed by Arne Neeme. Music by Yuri Worontschak. Musical Director Meg Kiddle. Choreographer Dan Venz. Lighting by Travis MacFarlane. The Q. Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre. March 23-27. Bookings: theq.net.au
Reviewed by Peter Wilkins
A sombre, slow funereal procession merging into a languid song about the boring overcooked Sunday roast may not be the most dynamic way to open a musical. Writer and lyricist Doug MacLeod no doubt wanted the audience to know what Sunday lunches were like before Margaret Fulton changed the world of cooking and was launched into celebrity status. This is immediately contrasted with a lively nationalistic flag waving celebration of Australia’s 1988 bicentennial. It was a time for change and Margaret Fulton was a woman of her time. Macleod depicts a world where every face is white and men rule the roost. John Bailey’s meticulously observed and detailed set design resurrects the neat and compact kitchen and dining room of the Fifties. It is clean, unostentatious and purely functional. It is the world where Fulton learnt to cook at her mother’s side and it is here that she was inspired to change the world of cooking with new and foreign tastes and simple but delicious and nutritious recipes that even a young man leaving home or a rather oblivious Bobby Limb could understand.
Arne Neeme’s direction is as unpretentious and functional as Fulton’s kitchen. MacLeod’s script is sufficiently utilitarian to outline the significant events in Fulton’s long life from a worker in a nuts and bolts factory to a maker of scones to a cook, restaurant critic, celebrity TV chef, author of a best selling cookbook and a mother and thrice married wife. What it lacks is heart. MacLeod is too concerned with providing an account of Fulton’s life trajectory and milestones rather than imbuing the characters with their humanity. An excellent cast do their best to inject flair and interest into a musical that is essentially pedestrian, an entertainment without the essential ingredient of tantalizing flavours. Even Yuri Worontschak’s musical compositions are largely derivative with strains of G and S, Lionel Bart, Kurt Weill and Sondheim. This is not to say that they are not catchy or well sung by the capable cast, but they lack an originality that could give Margaret Fulton The Musical a more dynamic flavour. Only Beautiful sung by a fine voiced Conor Ensor as Michael and Judy Hainsworth as Fulton captured the emotional truth and moving sentiment that was largely left out of this musical menu. Their scenes capture the truth of the human condition and the power of love which is at the very heart of Fulton’s cooking and her life. Fulton’s long life was one of struggle and disappointment as well as opportunity and success. Too often the show doesn’t rise to its full potential. Margaret Fulton The Musical is half baked. It needs to kneaded thoroughly so that the ingredients can be fully blended to let the characters become fully formed. As it is the musical appears dated, which of course it is, but the direction, music and choreography don’t need to be. Margaret Fulton OAM warrants a show that not only tells her story, but reflects the struggles and injustices of her time. Otherwise the show becomes a plain dish without the necessary garnish.
Having said this, the performances of the small ensemble are commendable and Hainsworth successfully captures the genuine and honest personality of a simple woman, passionate about her love for cooking and eager to introduce variety into the nation’s diet. And it is this that engaged the audience on the night I went. They loved it, and most identified with the era and the life that Fulton led. They fed full on the humour, the music and the routines and left feeling fully satisfied by this ample serving of entertainment. I only, it seemed, like Oliver from another wonderful musical wanted to paraphrase “Please Jally Entertainment, can I have something more.”