12: The Man From Mukinupin

2 Apr

Arriving in Australia when I was 15 meant that I never studied Australian history at school. What I’ve learnt has been gathered piecemeal from novels, plays and articles instead.

I’m going to add Dorothy Hewett’s The Man From Mukinupin to my list of strange and vivid stories, making up a mythical past.The play is set in 1914 and 1918, the two acts bisected by the First World War. Mukinupin is a town strangled by drought and petty minds and haunted by the massacre of the Aborigines who used to live there. For all this, The Man From Mukinupin is a celebratory musical, filled with dance, song and melodrama.

book on coloured pillow

It’s hard to believe Hewett wrote this play for a premiere production in 1979. It feels much more recent than that. I love the doubling of cast members to create a shadow underworld mirroring and showing up the foibles of the town’s ‘proper’ folk. For instance, drunken Harry Tuesday and Lily Perkins, whom the townsfolk call ‘Touch of the Tar’ because of her Aboriginal mother, are played by the same actors who play Jack Tuesday and Polly Perkins: their supposedly respectable counterparts.

But the lines that made it hardest for me to believe the age of this play were quoted in Stephen Barry’s introduction:

“It has become painfully obvious that the theatre managements put no real value on creative talent. The managements are bad for the directors and actors, worst of all for the playwrights. The major subsidised companies, whose job should surely be to take risks and provide a supportive environment for real talent, are the most timid, blood-thirsty and destructive of all. The playwright is just one commodity in a box-office world pressured to write down for a management, critics and audience with dangerous inward and outward limitations.” Dorothy Hewett, 1973.

38 years later, we still live in a box-office world with subsidised companies pressured to program safe, crowd pleasers. The risky productions come from independent companies, where no one gets paid for their work or talent…

Publisher: Currency Press

Cast: 3M, 5W

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One Response to “12: The Man From Mukinupin”

  1. Diane April 5, 2011 at 3:55 am #

    Stephen Barry’s introduction is spot on and as valid today as when it was written. Why does so little change in the world of major funded theatre companies and their productions. So many fine writers, so little support.

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