Last night’s opening of The Man From Mukinupin was one of those occasions where the excellence of the individual performances exceeded that of the whole. So much effort to so little purpose. This now almost ancient (in modern theatre terms) Dorothy Porter piece comes to the MTC stage from Sydney as a Belvoir Street Theatre production so it is already well run-in with a well-polished cast. But it is such a mish-mash – shadow play, melodrama, vaudeville, slapstick, musical, opera; all these elements are there in this tangled web of racism, jingoism, chauvinism, Ockerism and probably several other isms if one can be bothered identifying them.
The play no doubt had great shock value and relevance to the Australia of 1979, when it was first performed. And especially so in Western Australia, where it is set and got its first airing. But Australia, and theatre audiences, have moved on since then and it just seems so tired and dated with numerous references which went way over the heads of anyone in the audience under fifty years of age.
Most of the cast double up in their roles, some even playing in the on-stage band or manning the lights. Carrying much of the load is young VCA graduate Craig Annis who demonstrates an outstanding ability as singer, dancer and vaudevillian as well as straight actor. Another recent VCA graduate, Suzannah Bayes-Morton, matches him in skill and performance. They are well supported by such stalwarts as Max Gillies, Kerry Walker and Melodie Reynolds while Amanda Muggleton goes right over the top in her role as a fading star of the music hall.
A wonderfully evocative set makes full use of the Sumner Theatre’s big stage and there are some poignant and stirring musical numbers underscoring Porter’s blank verse.
So much that is so good yet it all adds up to very little and a fairly disappointing night in the theatre.