The new stage production from playwright Nakkiah Lui, Black Is The New White, is likely one of the finest indigenous ensemble casts assembled on Australian stage, frontlined Miranda Tapsell (The Sapphires, Love Child). The synopsis proposes this two act work as a light-hearted romantic comedy, but this is a delicate balance of incisive social commentary and devilish satire against slapstick and sitcom familiarities.
The setting is 2019, Australia. There’s an ‘ism’ for everything. Media rhetoric and opinion trumps earnest conversation. Twitter spectacle is more important than the realities of the people behind the tweets and political ideology pit against each other distracts everyone from the very real truth that family and community are no longer the central focal point of our national dialogue. In this setting, Lui has chosen the perfect time to illuminate the equal foolishness of the right and left, the drudgery of career over a life better lived, the battle of women to quell male ego and its fears and the very real issue of the commoditising capitalist indigenous identity. Is this actually the country we live in? Unashamedly, yes.
Laughing at the absurdity of it all, against the backdrop of the relationship dynamics, there is a balanced innocence and wisdom shared between high-profile Aboriginal lawyer Charlotte (Tapsell) and her musically brilliant trust-funded Anglo fiancé Francis (the endearing Tom Stokes). This is juxtaposed by the ignorant ‘boomer’ mentality shared between their respective fathers Ray (Tony Briggs) and Denison (Geoff Morrell). Their wives Joan (Melodie Reynolds-Diarra) and Marie (Vanessa Downing) share more than a mutual respect and tacit appreciation of gender-specific subjugation, while Charlotte’s sister and brother-in-law (Tuuli Narkle and Anthony Taufa) grapple with how their wealth and public profile lends itself to a narrative of indigenous identity that may not, in fact, be their personal truth.
Lui’s previous tongue-in-cheek execution of an Indigenous ‘Meet The Parents’ style lampoon as part of ABC’s Black Comedy is fully fleshed here. Brilliant intellect is balanced with perfectly timed slapstick humour, and an inexplicable nod to Peter Andre. The cast counter, joust and exuberantly commit with wonderful chemistry.
As a white reviewer, we can only learn from the rumination of indigenous identity illuminated by Lui. As a piece of pure theatre, Black is the New White is the new everything in terms of intellectual, sociopolitical, comedy based commentary on stage. There is something inherently and unapologetically brave about this comedy, and the demand it places not only on its characters but its viewers to check their privilege, be accountable for their actions and the legacy they leave behind amongst the evolving class system within Australia. The fact that it does all of that heavy lifting whilst making you laugh so hard your stomach hurts has it pegged to be an enduring Australian classic.
Black is the New White is at the Dunstan Play house until December 1st. It’s not to be missed. Click here for Tickets.
By Sarah Burley