The second of the Gothics Trilogy at Murdoch’s Nexus Theatre, The Mummy Rises sees a marked tonal shift from its predecessor. Also notable is that it uses an original script by Director Tim Brain rather than based on pre-existing literary material. This is more in line with the Brendan Fraser led movies where action is combined with broad comedy. There is an underlying tone of feminist empowerment though as the women are the main players here from Christie Strauss’ heroine, Clare Waldren; to Anna Weir’s Harriet Preston who finds release from her husband’s overbearing ways in surprising fashion; to Bella Doyle’s enigmatic Abrar Ali who controls the wrath of the titular Mummy, Artek Bey (Andrew Dawson).
Then there’s the comedy duo of Kate Willoughby and Abbey McCaughan who act like a CSI Egyptology dream team in the bowels of the London Museum with the former uncovering the secret to defeating the ancient foe. Indeed, Willoughby threatens to steal the show as she stumbles and bumbles her way to incantation laden epiphany.
The men don’t fare quite as well being the main contributors to the body count as hubris and intolerance is punished. Of course, any good Mummy story must have a curse and it’s in disturbing the final resting place of Artek Bey that trouble brews. The expedition, led by Clare’s father, John Waldren (Brain), financed by Lord Preston (Dean Lovatt), and including Alfie (Andrew David) and Charlie (Tay Broadley), is subsequently doomed as death stalks them in a neck snapping shuffle. Disaster strikes early with Alfie blinded and poor Charlie treated like a red-shirted member of a Star Trek away team (to completely mix my genre metaphors). The sarcophagus and accompanying artefacts are moved to London where, one by one, the remaining members of the team meet their fate.
The set and lighting design is again excellent as are the costuming and props. This is yet another handsome production to look at with the core Dracula set cleverly reconfigured to present the Egyptian tomb and later the London Museum. The opening is effectively done as we hear the chinks of tools cracking open the roof of the tomb and light pouring into the dusty and cobweb ridden main stage area. Lights flicker in the presence of the resurrected Mummy while the visual and aural elements from thunder and dust storms add ominous context. The staging of the deaths is given a wince inducing boost with a most graphic sound effect that drew squeals from some of the audience.
The first half, however, felt trapped in limbo between servicing both the horror and comedy elements equally. The second act fares better when especially Willoughby is given free rein and the kookiness of the situation and its quirky resolution are embraced. I was unsure, on the whole, of character’s frames of reference in the early going. Who believes in the curse and who doesn’t was a little blurred except in the instance of Lord Waldren and Lovatt plays the man with rock sure conviction until literally the death knell. The existence of the curse itself was undercut as Harriet Preston’s plight finds an unexpected ally. Part of that subsequent transaction suggests the curse is a fabrication that needs to be maintained; a false beat for mine. The positive message of her challenging Lord Preston’s domestic supremacy is also diluted by the manner in which she does so and her eventual fate.
Strauss’s Clare, however, gives plenty of cheek as the archaeologist daughter is more than a match in wits for the men and wields a mean sword. I was a little confused by her proper English accent in comparison to Tim Brain’s Scottish lilt as Clare’s father but archaeologists are a well-travelled bunch I guess. Lovatt is imperious and brings gravitas to the Lord who sees profit before discovery and science before superstition. He also isn’t afraid to play the villain in the domestic abuse subplot though his stage slap needs work. Dawson is impressively swathed as the Mummy and brings physicality to the role with his imposing height compared to the rest of the cast.
In all it’s a fun romp which, with some tightening of character motivations and outlook, and a firmer decision on what type of production it wants to be (it leans heavily towards parody at certain points and is at its best as a comedy), could find life outside the strictures of the Trilogy.