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Review: Black is the New White at Southbank Theatre

By Anja Bless

If you’re raised as part of a community, only to find out that you should never have belonged to them in the first place, are they still your community? Does the privilege of wealth negate your experiences of oppression? How do we move forward from centuries of attempted genocide? Can you love someone and hate them at the same time? What does love even mean?

These are just some of the questions that Black is the New White somehow manages to tackle in around two hours. While that may sound like a heavy load for an audience to take on, it’s the opposite. Nakkiah Lui’s applauded work of social commentary meets comedy is down-right hilarious. Lui’s narrative navigates and escalates to the beautiful point of farce, all the awkward moments, conflicts and reconciliations that come with family gatherings.

The play centres around Charlotte Gibson (played by the ever-electric Miranda Tapsell), a successful lawyer and proud Indigenous woman with a bright future but a strong sense of disillusionment. Struggling to escape her famous father’s (Tony Briggs) shadow, she must also figure out how to navigate introducing her very white fiancée Frances Smith (Tom Stokes) to the family at Christmas.

What follows is a satirical comedy where love can be expressed in the form of a food fight. Dynamically narrated by the charming Luke Carroll, each character has an opportunity to have their story heard. Like a rapid fire jazz piece, they each get a chance in the spotlight to show their impeccable comedic timing (particularly the hilarious Tom Stokes), and also powerful monologues on their rights to love and self-determination. Charlotte’s mother, Joan Gibson, played by Melodie Reynolds-Diarra, was a stand out in both these regards.

Sold as Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner crossed with Meet the Fockers, Black is the New White is so much more than that. This show demonstrates the power of comedy and theatre for communicating the complexities of identity politics, the nuances of love and commitment, and the importance of empathy.

The cast moves with ease throughout the multi-level set, designed by Renée Mulder, which makes you feel like you really have just been plonked smack bang in the middle of a very nice living room. It captures the chaos of having all your relatives under one roof. It provides the opportunity for the cast to have both intimate moments and rambunctious all-in pandemonium. Each couple has their own charms, their loves are unique and believable. Charlotte’s sister (Tuuli Narkle) and her husband (Anthony Taufa) are particularly endearing in their ‘opposites attract’ dynamic.

Black is the New White will have you up and dancing, laughing until you cry, and engaging in important conversations on your way home and for days afterwards. This is a show about not taking ourselves too seriously, and remembering that we all long for connection, love and honesty. It’s a show about the issues we still face in Australia regarding race, culture, politics, gender, and class. It’s about what those things mean for an older generation, and for the new. Most of all, it’s about how, we’re all human at the end of the day.

Image Credit Jeff Busby

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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