So, I subscribed to the Belvoir theatre productions again this year. One of the things that has happened to me is that, at the beginning of the year, I read a few of the notes about productions, and then decide to buy into them all. A few months later I go to see a production, and I have absoloutely no idea on earth what i’m about to see and experience, and thats what happened to me with The Man from Mukinupin.
I’m really glad it was like that – I had no idea that I was about to see a musical, no idea that it was written about aboriginal australia, and no idea it was from the 1970s. Had I known, I would have given the whole thing a miss, but i’m really glad I went and saw this.
Mukinupin is about life in a supposed small western australian town, where everyone knows everyone, and the people have a predjudice against aborginials, with all sorts of names flying around on stage (Gin the most notable one) . The older main characters lament how they ended up in such a backwater, and the younger ones dream of breaking out into the big cities. Exactly what you’d expect.
Thinking back to what this would have been in the 1970s, I can only imagine how groundbreaking it was. A musical, about australian aborigines, that takes a look at the realities of racial hate, and about how people hated the idea of relationships between white men and black women. It really would have been quite the shock, and it still is. The play isn’t heavy though, it’s a musical after all, and it’s really fun to watch: hate is treated as it is, as a matter of fact, and you’re not hit in the head with all sorts of political questions throughout the whole thing.
The 1970s production comes through in a few of the themes. Though set in the 1910s, right after federation, you can feel that the discourse is really about the Vietnam war, and that the values of love and tolerance are really shining through. I suppose the drug culture is around, too, when you overhear one of the characters offering everyone an ‘acid drop’ for their pleasure. The question of soil, drought and salinity were a big deal in 1970s australia, too, so that can explain some of the subplots, too.
However, the center of the play is about two young teens, Jack and Polly, and how they grow up loving each other. The question is, of course, will they end up together, through all the trials that barren western australia would get you into. I won’t give out the end of the play, but you can imagine that things are simpler.
The production at the belvoir is excellent. The set looks rather barren at first, but under clever direction and great use of the space, they transform a sandy floor into a believable small town, with a lot of hidden magic and movement. Theres a really good use of sillhouettes to expand the stage beyond what it can be, where half the time on stage, the players are just sillhouetes behind a curtain, letting the audience imagine what is going on.
The music is perfectly set with 2 musicians playing piano, double bass, tuba and a small organ in the side of the set. The interaction between the actors and the musicians is really fun, and the musos get in on the act: they’re not hidden away in a pit, which is really terrific. The acoustics in the Belvoir are surprisingly good, and the players in the small space aren’t all wired up for sound: you get to hear them being intimate around each other. It’s really fun to watch, and I found myself waiting for song after song. It’s worth mentioning Craig Annis as the lead role has a terrific voice, and really brings the show together.
Mukinupin is a really fun show to watch. The only criticism is that, including an interval, it runs to almost 3 hours, and it feels long at the end. I did see a preview though, and I suspect things will be great when the season actually starts. If you want to see a fun musical show, that talks about early Australian in an honest way, it’s worthwhile. I really enjoyed it, almost as much as The Removalists, and I don’t typically enjoy Musicals.