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Review: Blackie Blackie Brown: The Traditional Owner of Death at Malthouse Theatre

By Marti Ibrahim

‘Blackie Blackie Brown: The Traditional Owner of Death’ tells the story of an indigenous female archaeologist, Dr Jacqueline Black (Tahlee Fereday), who becomes the vigilante comic book superhero, Blackie Blackie Brown, after she finds a skull in a mass grave in the Australian outback, and is visited by the spirit of her great, great grandmother. At her great great grandmother’s urging, Dr Black goes on a mission to avenge the deaths of her ancestors – by killing all 400 descendants of the white men who killed her ancestral family.

The audience is greeted by a somewhat minimalistic looking, mostly white set – a raked floor and large square white tiles are the only suggestions that there is much more to the space than initially meets the eye (without giving anything more away, Elizabeth Gadsby’s set design is extremely versatile and excellently supports the creative story-telling in this production). Then the play begins, with a sudden flash of light and a loud percussive beat jolting the audience to attention. After a brief, very entertaining prologue (delivered especially effectively by Ash Flanders) we are told in no uncertain terms by the screen projections on the back wall, that this is NOT a story of reconciliation. It is a story of truth, sin, fairness and justice – and judging by the audience’s response to what they were being shown on the screen, it is exactly the kind of thing they wanted to see.

The two actors are an absolute joy to watch in this production. Tahlee Fereday is strong and energetic as Blackie Blackie Brown, the fearless heroine who will fight to free her ancestors and her people. But she is also captivating and beautiful as she reveals the deep emotional connection that she has with her heritage, especially towards the end of the play. Ash Flanders is just as wonderful, capturing with aplomb the distinctions between several different characters with nuances in his voice and demeanour that define the many different personalities he plays. There is also a lot of humour in this play, and it’s extremely satisfying to watch it handled so well by these two very talented performers.

I was also very impressed by the clever use of stagecraft in this show, which pushed the boundaries of traditional theatrical norms to give the audience a unique experience. There were so many different technical elements (lighting, sound, pre-recorded news clips, animations, text projections) that all worked so well together with Nakkiah Lui’s witty, fast-paced text, and the interpretation of that text in live action. Working under the obviously outstanding guidance of their Director Declan Greene, Elizabeth Gadsby (design), Mike Greaney and Christina Remnant (both animation and video), Verity Hampson (lighting and projection design), Steve Toulmin (composition and sound design), and Emily Johnson (concept artist) all did a spectacular job of combining different art forms to create interesting, imaginative, engaging, and entertaining theatre. And the skill and strength of the actors meant that none of these elements took over from the performances. Props must also go to stage manager Jess Keepence, who must’ve had her work cut out for her with this one! This show really is a seamless combination of various creative forms. The result is an excellent night out at the theatre, and it is certainly not to be missed.

Image Credit: Tim Grey

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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