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Review: Black Ties at Arts Centre Melbourne (Asia TOPA)

Review by Taylor Kendal

Performed at Arts Centre Melbourne as part of Asia TOPA, Black Ties brings the timeless story of young lovers fighting obstacles in order to spend their lives together, but with a realistic and rather home hitting difference. Hera (Tuakoi Ohia) and Kane (Mark Coles Smith) are two young kids ready to start their lives together. However, there is one thing that needs to be dealt with; neither has met the other’s family, and both seem reluctant to do so, despite knowing it needs to happen before they can get married. So, they decide that it’s time, and make the trip from their home in Sydney, to visit Hera’s family in New Zealand, and Mark’s in Melbourne. Both kids come from strong familial backgrounds, proud and rich in their differing cultures and heritage. It is the love that these families have for their children, their culture and their country that sets up a loud and rather insane trip down the aisle.

Black Ties is the joint collaboration of ILBIJERRI Theatre Company and Te Rēhia Theatre Company, two First Nation Companies that champion the emerging theatre, the artistry, playwrights and the stories of the Aboriginal and Maori cultures respectfully. It is a union of talent, devotion and respect to culture written by John Harvey and Tainui Tukiwaho, and directed by Rachael Maza and Tukiwaho. It is with complete and utter reverence and respect from this reviewer, of the hard work and love that has gone into this production from these companies.

Right from the start, the audience is thrown into the chaos; expecting a typical theatre outing, but met with what is largely an immersive wedding experience, and we’re all invited! All preconceived notions and conventions are virtually thrown out the door and the wedding guests are treated to an honest, hilarious and quite frankly, relatable adventure for a few hours.

Despite a slightly clunky opening scene (initial introduction to the main couple seems a little too scripted, but thankfully evens out quickly), the first act is set up in a rather intriguing fashion, splitting scenes between the respective chaotic visits to New Zealand and Melbourne, with a three piece band providing musical interludes and serving as members of the families, as the lead up to the wedding begins, and all the chaos that ensues. What follows is a side splitting, gut wrenching and heartwarming portrayal of families butting heads, trying to one up each other, and the exhaustion that comes with bringing two strong families together as one.

The cast is comprised of a group of incredibly talented performers who shine with the natural ability to bring these stories to life, all the while remaining relatable and for the most part, real. You feel as though you know these people, and that you want to follow them on their journey. Each and every one should be commended for the hilarity and the honesty that they bring to the performance.

With such a focus on culture and heritage, the show at times deals with some heavy and rather sensitive issues surrounding each culture. Discussions regarding the Stolen Generation, not fitting within one’s own culture and the expectations and preconceived ideas about both the Aboriginal and Maori communities to outsiders, as tensions rise and things, quite literally, turn ugly.

What makes Black Ties so engaging is its relatability, and the honest portrayal of everyday people. Despite not belonging to either of the cultures represented, I could not help but find myself witnessing familiar traits within members of my own family, and it was both terrifying and so well constructed that it was an absolute joy. An incredibly witty, honest and hilarious script, delivered with such conviction by an all-star cast, makes it such an experience, you forget that you’re in the theatre, and not taking part in a wedding ceremony. It is quite frankly, the most honest representation of family that I’ve seen in a long time, if ever.

At the heart of the story, is love and the various parts it plays in life. There is the love of a mother and her children, the love of country and heritage, and the love between two people, overcoming all obstacles. The biggest theme, of course, is the importance of family; how family is the bond between us all, no matter where you’re from or what colour you are. Family doesn’t always mean blood, a lesson we all need in this day and age.

There is so much that could be said about this production, and the utter and absolute joy it brings, but I would fail to do so with enough words without giving it all away! So, RSVP to the wedding of the year and come and see for yourself!

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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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