Described by Dorothy Hewett in her 1979 Hecate article as 'a romantic comedy, written around the principles of celebration and reconciliation... with love and the realisation of love... central to the story' (78), The Man From Mukinupin also deals with the juxtaposition of surface aspects of life and those which lie beneath the surface. The narrative concerns the courtship and eventual marriage of Polly and Jack, along with their doubles Lily and Harry. The two couples lives, played out in the mythical Western Australia wheat belt town of Mukinupin, are starkly contrasted. Jack and Polly belong to the seemingly respectable and conventional daytime society. Polly, is a double figure - an "about to be disappointed in love an life girl" but for whom everything does come out roses. Her other self is Lily (Touch-of-the-Tar), represents the outsider and outcast. Although Lily and Harry roam the dark netherworld of night-time Mukinupin, she too is able to realise her dream, to escape from the narrow little bush town with her lover. In contrast to these four are the grotesque characters, Widow Tuesday, the Black Widow of Mukinupin who delights in death and destruction; and Edie Perkins, the old lady who recites snatches of Victorian poetry. In discussing the role of her female characters Hewett indicates that the thematic struggle mostly lies within the range of the women : 'They are the most aware of the predicament and are the most violently affected by it' ('Creating Heroines', p79).
'The most famous Australian play and one of the best loved, Summer of the Seventeenth Doll is a tragicomic story of Roo and Barney, two Queensland sugar-cane cutters who go to Melbourne every year during the 'layoff' to live it up with their barmaid girl friends. The title refers to kewpie dolls, tawdry fairground souvenirs, that they brings as gifts and come, in some readings of the play, to represent adolescent dreams in which the characters seem to be permanently trapped. The play tells the story in traditional well-made, realistic form, with effective curtains and an obligatory scene. Its principal appeal – and that of two later plays with which it forms The Doll Trilogy – is the freshness and emotional warmth, even sentimentality, with which it deals with simple virtues of innocence and youthful energy that lie at the heart of the Australian bush legend.
'Ray Lawler’s play confronts that legend with the harsh new reality of modern urban Australia. The 17th year of the canecutters’ arrangement is different. There has been a fight on the canefields and Roo, the tough, heroic, bushman, has arrived with his ego battered and without money. Barney’s girl friend Nancy has left to get married and is replaced by Pearl, who is suspicious of the whole set-up and hopes to trap Barney into marriage. The play charts the inevitable failure of the dream of the layoff, the end of the men’s supremacy as bush heroes and, most poignantly, the betrayal of the idealistic self-sacrifice made by Roo’s girl friend Olive – the most interesting character – to keep the whole thing going. The city emerges victorious, but the emotional tone of the play vindicates the fallen bushman.'
Source: McCallum, John. 'Summer of the Seventeenth Doll.' Companion to Theatre in Australia. Ed. Philip Parson and Victoria Chance. Sydney: Currency Press , 1997: 564-656.
Malone, Peter. Myth and Meaning: Australian Film Directors in Their Own Words. Currency Press, 2001.
Walton, Storry. Shooting Through : Australian Film and the Brain Drain. Currency Press, 2005.
Lawler, Ray. The Doll Trilogy. Currency Press, 2001.
Meyrick, Julian. See How it Runs: Nimrod and the New Wave. Currency Press, 2002.
Brisbane, Katharine. Critical Perspectives: Eight: Award-Winning Arts Critics. Currency Press, 1997.