Review by James Mukheibir
For a long time, mainstream Australian theatre has had a reputation for being overly white, euro-centric and a bit tired. Recycled scripts put on the country's foremost stages, accompanied by promises of a fresh perspective, a modern take, an invigorating reimagining, all of which gloss over the fact that these productions absorb program slots that could go to the truly untold stories, new perspectives and reflections of modern Australia. There was an artistic comfort-zone that enveloped the industry, feeding into the desires of an affluent audience-base with limited capacity for a cultural challenge.
Thankfully all has not been lost to this grey void, and in recent times things have begun to change. Black Brass is part of a growing trend of diverse stories that are beginning to be heard on Australia’s top stages. Audiences are treated to an immersive and considered production, initially from Perth Festival 2021, as Belvoir’s foyer is transformed into a celebration of the mother continent to be explored before one enters the theatre space and is a precursory insight into the voyage they are about to embark on with the performers.
The story takes place within a recording studio as Sleeper, played by Mararo Wangai who created, wrote and stars in this production, cleans up after musicians on an overnight shift. From here, the audience is transported through Sleeper’s swirling thoughts and frustrations in his struggles to settle into his new life in Australia and reconcile with his past. This is presented as a monologue but functions as a conversation with the incredible live music performed by Mahamudo Selimane, who brings emotional depth and breadth through truly mesmerising African songs that cross landscapes of loss, love and power. These two performers have a wonderful harmony in both spirit and song, and both must be commended for their agility in moving across the often rapidly rotating stage.
The motion of the stage was a wonderful addition, creating a transitory space to house this story of change and growth. The overall design of the production was strong yet simple, allowing space for the characters to expand beyond the physical bounds of the space and travel through emotional ports of truth, riding the immense sonic currents created in the music.
Belvoir’s relatively intimate space perfectly complemented the human-scale story unfolding on stage, facilitating a great sense of connectedness with the performers. The full-blooded tones of Mahamudo Selimane fill the space and bring with it such force that every cell in one's body thrums with energy and life, adding scale to the explorations of people-power and the fight for freedom in Africa.
These explorations are inspired by interviews with Perth’s Zimbabwean, Sudanese, South African, Central Congo, Mauritius, Nigerian, Congolese and Kenyan communities on the theme of resilience. There is a truth to the story told in Black Brass and the entire team deserves recognition for the care they took to present an authentic and powerful story that elevates the voices of those who are often overlooked in theatre spaces and society as a whole.
Black Brass is a refreshing, soulful and affecting production that is bravely unique, pointing to an exciting future for Australian theatre as it embraces and elevates the stories of Australians of all backgrounds.
“Black Brass honours the stories of those who journey here – what they leave behind, and what they carry with them. Come and experience this soulful and deeply moving play.” - Belvoir Producer and Creative Producer for Black Brass, Zainab Syed.
Black Brass is in Sydney for a limited season at Belvoir, from 6 to 23 January, 2022.