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Review: Black is the New White at Heath Ledger Theatre, State Theatre

By Tatum Stafford

If overwhelming, non-stop laughter is anything to go by – this feel-good show is set for a fantastic season here in Perth. Black is the New White opened at the Heath Ledger Theatre on Saturday to a raucously enthusiastic audience. Packed with highly relevant references, over-the-top characters and a great deal of heart, this show is a delight to attend.

Written by Torres Strait Island-playwright Nakkiah Lui, Black is the New White is the story of two Australian families (the Gibsons and the Smiths), who are brought together by two young lovers for a Christmas celebration to remember.

The two young lovebirds are lawyer Charlotte Gibson (Miranda Tapsell) and her fiancée Francis Smith (Tom Stokes). Charlotte is from a proud Aboriginal family, comprised of her activist father Ray (Tony Briggs), mother Joan (Melodie Reynolds-Diarra), sister Rose (Kylie Bracknell) and Rose’s husband Sonny (Anthony Taufa). Throw in Francis’ straight-laced, white parents Dennison (Geoff Morrell) and Marie (Vanessa Downing), and a charmingly energetic narrator (Luke Carroll) – and you’ve got yourself a night of brilliant, comedic theatre.

This comedy of errors is not only a testament to its strong script, but also to its director Paige Rattray. The sheer logistics of the show’s cast parading around the Gibsons’ eclectic family home are a lot to get your head around; and demonstrate the mastery of Rattray’s work with specific blocking and angles to convey each character’s personal chaos.

All acting performances within this show are exceptional, and definitely combine to create a brilliant cast (and character) dynamic. Their energy is infectious, and progresses the story with great vigour and enthusiasm. Even whilst delivering some more heartfelt moments and pieces of dialogue, each actor remains completely present within the large playing space. The narrator (Carroll) should be particularly commended for this, as he seemed to glide across the Gibsons’ living room, interjecting when needed and reflecting when not.

Tapsell’s acting prowess is certainly no secret to Australians – and this show seeks to further exemplify her beautifully natural approach to her characters. Her Charlotte is determined, but also envelops a layer of familial pride and attachment that is very endearing. Her partner Francis (Stokes) is also a clear standout of the show, delivering some potentially uncomfortable lines and jokes that only land because of his clear characterisation choices and commitment to the awkwardly adorable nature of his character’s approach.

As this is a true ensemble piece, it feels remiss to not single out each actor’s incredible performance. Downing is quirkily lovable as Marie, Bracknell’s ‘Rose’ is incredibly headstrong yet laughably ignorant, Reynolds-Diarra’s ‘Joan’ is wise and compassionate, and Taufa’s ‘Sonny’ is refreshingly earnest and self-aware. The ‘war’ between Dennison (Morrell) and Ray (Briggs) is perhaps the strongest clash of characters during the show, making for some hilarious (and occasionally, shocking) moments.

I urge you to see this important, refreshing and hilarious piece of theatre before it closes on September 22nd. And if you don’t take my word for it, I’m sure the laughs exploding from the theatre will be enough to convince you.

Image Credit: Prudence Upton and Toni Wilkinson

All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.


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