Monday, April 13, 2009


The chalk board at the bottom of the stairs said ' no mobile phones, no food, no drinks, and no muckin' up'. 

We had just shared a forked box dinner at a table in the consistently friendly foyer of Belvoir Street. Our accidental companions were the ex-wife of a geologist oilman, whose marriage had taken them to Texas, but not much further, and her greying curly haired partner, every bit the stereotypical forthright commie aussie intellectual bloke. Between mouthfuls of salmon and warm potato salad from a cardboard box, we all used happenstance to be uncharacteristically frank, with rapid fire questions and flight of ideas, careers exposed, affiliations on the table, a trip to USSR in the 70s (I thought so), relationships declared, did Jessye Norman sing Wagner he suddenly asked, as by now we climbed up the stairs, up to Dorothy Hewett's 'A Man from Muckinupin'.

Alec Bolton 'Portrait of Dorothy Hewett, Darlinghurst', 1985

Dorothy Hewett has been dead 7 years, buried in the Blue Mountains under her own words:

No motion has she now, no force;
        She neither hears nor sees;
Rolled round in earth's diurnal course,
        With rocks and stones and trees.

This was to be, shamefully, my first exposure to Hewett theatre, which is not the least of the reasons we were there, to catch up on stuff missed during years which by the very nature of how many hours in a day, days in a week, etc, had slipped right by.

Her sprawling musical play (music by Jim Cotter who gives a history in the programme notes of the evolution of the work, now 30 years old, a work commissioned to 'celebrate' the 150 year anniversary of white settlement in Western Australia) is in very good hands. Wesley Enoch directs a fantastic team on Richard Robert's sand-swept campfire set, using the pivot of a travelling theatre troupe in the 1950s caravanning its way through the outback performing a play set around WW1 to bring us, a century later, into this vaudeville-with-a-dark-side to reexamine who we are. Hewett shows us just how far we haven't progressed. It is astonishingly Australian. 

I wondered what a tourist would make of it all, laced with idiom, and even that slipping away into the past in a plume of dusty secrets and denials as we hurtle ourselves along some dirt road to a future of little meaning without due awareness of where it all began.

At interval, back in that friendly foyer, I bumped into a friend from work, a New Yorker just back here in her adopted county after a few months placing her widowed and unforgiving mother in a nursing home in Jersey. She was enjoying it, but seemed fixated that the singing wasn't great. Well it wasn't exactly bad, and was perfectly in context. It wasn't Oklahoma, thanks be to Dorothy Hewett and Jim Cotter.

The programme has some thoughtful extracts. From Anthony Stephens 'Jung, A Very Short Introduction' there are notes on Jungian psychology, touching on the denying of the darkness in ourselves and the projection of it on to others. We despise most the others who show us the worst of ourselves, and Hewett uses fraternity and twin-like devices to expose both sides of our coin. 

"Enlightenment is not imagining figures of light but making the darkness conscious". 

Ross Gibson (Professor of Contemporary Arts, University of Sydney) responds to the question "What was the land, two hundred and twenty years ago, in this place that would soon get called 'Australia' ?" He answers with an extension of the fallacy of 'Terra nullius' to embrace the concept that this land was a vast managed infrastructure of immeasurable wealth, and white takeover has been neither silent nor stain free. The land is the place of memory. It is the witness. It will not be denied nor disappear behind us. He goes on to note that 'The Man from Mukinupin' taps into this unfinished business, as he calls it. No black armband bullshit here.

Kerry Walker plays an ascerbic and po-faced Edie Perkins, hearing only what she wants to hear, and Max Gillies is her deceptive husband Eek, and the eccentric disconnected Zeek. Amanda Muggleton is Merci Montebello, the travelling chanteuse, to the manor born. David Page relishes his three roles, as does Craig Annis as the brothers Tuesday and Suzannah Bayes-Morton is the exposed black-white interface of the sisters Perkins. Roxanne McDonald and Valentina Levkowicz stab the dialogue with wit and the voice of the elders.

Daryl Wallis and Wayne Freer were the wonderful on stage musos playing Alan John's arrangement of Jim Cotter's music.

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