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BLACK IS THE NEW WHITE @ The State Theatre Centre gets 9.5/10

Black is the New White @ The State Theatre Centre
Saturday, September 14, 2019

Written by Nakkiah Lui
Directed by Paige Rattray
Starring Miranda Tapsell, Anthony Taufa, Luke Carroll, Kylie Bracknell, Tony Briggs

9.5/10

One of the great productions by Black Swan State Theatre Company in recent years, Black is the New White is a note-perfect love letter to our First Nations people, enveloped in riotous guffaws that come thick and fast. In conjunction with Sydney Theatre Company, this is without doubt an unmissable piece of iconic Australian theatre that speaks to both the white and brown Australian experience in the most relatable of ways.

Charlotte (played by the delightful and incredibly talented Miranda Tapsell) is a sassy, proud Indigenous woman whose father’s greatest dream for her is that she become the Aboriginal Waleed Aly. Her fiancé Francis (Tom Stokes) is, unfortunately for Charlotte, the whitest-of-white privileged men, and her proudly Aboriginal family are unaware of this. Charlotte’s father, however, despite his reputation as a boxer, is notoriously ‘white’ acting. Cue a hilarious meeting of minds akin to Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner versus Meet the Fockers.

There were moments where the audience cried out loud to stop the token white boy from making an inevitable faux pas while trying to fit in, and therein lies the beauty of productions such as this. Audience interaction is an actor’s great joy. Shushing the white boy is a treat, and fun that everyone enjoyed. Theatre should not be a stuffy affair, but one we all revel in. Interaction with the play has a history as old as Greek theatre and Shakespeare. Embrace it.

Written by wunderkind Nakkiah Lui, the play was first staged to sell-out crowds in Sydney when she was just 26 years old. Her writing credits include the notoriously lauded ABC produced Black Comedy, as well as a multitude of other moments whereby she stands her ground as a First Nations woman and proud owner of Australian land. She is a force with which to be reckoned, and this gift of a play should be sold out nightly so folks can say they were there before she became more famous. Her writing is sublime, and her voice is one that is much needed in 2019 Australia. She doesn’t shout so much as whisper jokes in your ears for the mind to consider later, all the while with a giggle in her voice and a mischievous twinkle in her eye.

Ostensibly about what it means to be an Indigenous Australian, Black is the New White is so much more. It is a hilariously, surprisingly light-hearted examination of what it means to be a family, to love, to accept and to forgive. Irreverently upbeat while addressing some very serious material, the belly laughs come thick, fast, and relentlessly.

A firm audience favourite, Sonny by name and sunny by nature, Anthony Taufa’s turn as Charlotte’s brother-in-law is the most infectious of comedic turns as the most loveable clown in the midst of the greatest First Nations nativity scene… a missed opportunity for an incredibly Australian Christmas spectacular.

As always, Black Swan did not fail to deliver anything less than perfection with their brilliant set and costume design. Utterly impeccable, every component is very deliberate and intentionally considered. The splashes of colour are notable, each stroke from a palette of desert colours from the gorgeous yellows to the sprinkles of red and amber. Designer Renée Mulder has not held back on creating a phenomenally subtle and divine nod to the culture playing out onstage.

Black is the New White is truly one of the greatest Australian productions in recent years, and one of Black Swan’s crowning jewels. Go see it. But be prepared to laugh until your white guilt hurts.

NATALIE GILES

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