Theatre Review: Black is the New White by Nakkiah Lui

I’m branching out of my comfort zone of books to talk about other things.  I go along to quite a few plays held in Melbourne subscribing to seven or so plays a year with the Melbourne Theatre Company (MTC).  I’ve seen some fantastic productions, none more so than the current play, Black is the New White.

While it is a long play, at two hours and thirty minutes, (including a twenty-minute intermission) and I hear the collective groan, it’s one of the most face-paced, hilarious, and subversive two hours that you’re ever likely to encounter for quite some time.

So what’s it about?

Charlotte Gibson, a successful lawyer has fallen in love with Francis Smith, an unemployed but highly talented experimental composer. They attend her affluent parents’ holiday house for Christmas extending an invitation to Francis’ parents. Charlotte’s father Ray, an ex-politician has grand plans for Charlotte as the next female Indigenous Waleed Aly on prime time television. But Ray doesn’t know that his daughter has other ideas for her life including marriage to Francis who happens to be the son of Ray’s political nemesis,  Dennison Smith. The skeletons come flying out of the closet thick and fast.

What follows is a tussle between the families which provides the perfect backdrop for a brilliantly funny play. The play has been described as a cross between Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and Meet the Fockers. But it’s so much more than that. It’s insight with satire at its best.

Lui drills down on being indigenous and white particularly in middle-class Australia. The issues are even broader than race and are no less blunt and direct turning a mirror on all of us in an utterly explicit way.   Indeed it’s a play of the current day adding to the conversation of racism, equality, feminism, generation gaps and class and privilege. There’s no pussyfooting around the blunt, confronting and the thought-provoking messages poking fun yet involving us all.

Starring, Miranda Tapsell as Charlotte and Tony Briggs as Ray, the acting by all the players was brilliant; slapstick and nudity included. The set is wonderful and the dialogue tight. It’s refreshing to see a play like this.

If you’re in Melbourne or coming to visit, get along to this one for a very enjoyable evening. It runs until 9 November 2019.

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