Margaret Fulton: Queen of the Dessert

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In the tradition of Keating! and Shane Warne: The Musical comes the latest offering in the biography-musical sub-genre, Margaret Fulton: Queen of the Dessert. As befits the title, this original musical by Doug Macleod and Yuri Worontschak about the well-loved cookery writer and Australian Living Treasure is a sweet and frothy confection—but it is also a tasteful and well-judged tribute with a feisty independent spirit at its core.

Adapted from Fulton’s own memoirs, we learn that the diminutive home cook (played by Amy Lehpamer) had an unfortunate penchant in her early years for “decorative…but useless” men, that she lived and worked as a single mother in grimy 1950s Sydney, and that she was an early pioneer in linking home cooking to cultural and social aspiration.

Directors Bryce Ives and Nathan Gilkes have found a strong lead in Lehpamer, who channels old-worldly poise and wry determination. Laura Burzacott and Josh Price are superb comic foils as, respectively, Fulton’s well-meaning neighbour and a string of hapless males. The cast is rounded out by Zoy Frangos as Fulton’s eventual husband, Zoe McDonald as Fulton’s mother, and Jazz Miller and Joy Palmer as back-up vocalists, “The Margarettes.”

The songs themselves are exceedingly well-crafted, composer Worontschak bringing together a range of musical genres from the salsa-inspired “La Vie Bohème” to swinging London pop and joyous anthems on pressure cookers and jam.

This exaltation of the domestic affords lyricist Macleod some opportunities at tongue-in-cheek; however, the overwhelming goodwill in the piece results in a curious lack of conflict, with Fulton’s life condensed to a selection of choice but ultimately benign anecdotes. It is difficult to get past the sometimes saccharine portrayal of Fulton as a kind of culinary Mary Poppins, in order to glean what motivated her throughout her remarkable and surely challenging career.

Perhaps this is the outcome of being conferred iconic status in your own lifetime, and what Lehpamer is getting at when she sings (early on in the piece) “the Living National Treasure Blues.”

Margaret Fulton: Queen of the Dessert is playing at Theatreworks, St Kilda until December 1. For more information and tickets visit: www.theatreworks.org.au

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