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An eloquent ham

Josephine Wilson

Kelton Pell, Strategy for Two Hams Kelton Pell, Strategy for Two Hams
photo Jon Green
Surely there can’t be much more to say about the life of the modern pig. As Beatrix Potter wrote, “they lead prosperous uneventful lives and their end is bacon.” Yet the pig occupies an interesting position in our culture. We cannot simply embrace the pig for what it is. It is almost as if its base and irrefutable pigginess makes it a prime candidate for a little bit of cultural cooking.

We make symbols of grown pigs, give them allegorical significance, make of them moral tales. And of course, we sentimentalise them. The juvenile pig, the piglet, is not easily digested. We are programmed to adore cubs, kittens, and cute little pink things. In order to allay the dreadful knowledge that piglets (and by extension our children) will grow up and die, we write anxious stories about pigs. We change the endings: think of all those stories about little pigs that manage to escape (what they escape is usually vague and non-specific, as it should be). If that doesn’t make us feel better, we banish time and the spectre of endings altogether. We bring on the Über-Babe, the misunderstood and overlooked little Piglet, whose good deeds so often go unremarked and who will no doubt struggle on in endless Disney sequels for centuries to come, always in the shadows of silly Pooh and grumpy Rabbit.

In Raymond Cousse’s well-known monologue Strategy for Two Hams, a confined Pig endures the regulated rigours of fattening up, quite aware of how the story ends. In this excellent Deckchair Theatre production, Kelton Pell is sublime as the Pig. He snorts, spits, scratches, reclines, struts and preens, forcing between the contracting bookends of his life a suitably eloquent and poignant justification for his own death. Despite the glorious babble, fear is never far away. Time marches on. The story must finish. Death lurks in the stainless steel pen, the cold fluorescent lights, in the regulated dispensing of mush at meal times, in the complex self-justifications, the irony of getting one over the keeper.

Even an eloquent Ham is still a pig, and he struggles with his obvious singularity and his undeniable generality. Off-stage, other pigs squeal as if they are having their throats cut (which they no doubt are). The physicality of Pell’s performance butts the body right up against the mouth. Wonderful ideas emerge from that mouth, but so does regurgitated vomit and slop. There is no mind-body split. This is no disembodied intellect on stage; rather, the intellect is stitched back into the body where it truly resides, struggling to fill the final days, hours, minutes with eloquent words addressed to an other.

The Pig gobbles up more slop. One or 2 people walk out. Someone else gets the giggles. But I can’t take my eyes off Pell. He is elegant, funny, and narcissistic. Neither he nor I can help but be seduced by the sight of his own fat, juicy hams. And then it’s over.

Afterwards, there is not much to say. It is closing night. There will be no more Pig. My friend and I know that we have had the privilege of seeing an extraordinary performance. We are so full of the poor Pig we have no need for conversation. Outside it is freezing cold, and raining cats and dogs.

Strategy for Two Hams, by Raymond Cousse, director Mark Howett, performer Kelton Pell, Deckchair Theatre, May 24-June14

RealTime issue #56 Aug-Sept 2003 pg. 13

© Josephine Wilson; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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