By Isabella Olsson
It is a strange and delightful feeling to be back in a theatre – albeit one with at minimum two seats between patrons, a camera crew (for live streaming purposes) and a temperature check at the door. But despite our new world and the constraints we have to deal with, theatre and performance has found a way to adapt to it.
Black Birds’ ‘Our Visions Begin With Our Desires – Chapter 2’, playing at the Old 505 Theatre as part of the Sydney Fringe Festival, was my first return to live performance since March. As an audience member, I was excited – not only to get back to the world I live and breathe, but also to see how the artists would adjust to COVID regulations, and whether it would translate.
The show is written by Ayeesha Ash, who also features in it, and is directed by Gabrielle Dadgostar. If you’ve ever seen an iteration of Real Housewives, then you will immediately be familiar with the concept – essentially a reunion episode featuring three brash, narcissistic and dolled up reality star housewives. The twist is that contrary to the usually ultra-white line ups on the classic television versions of this format, ‘Our Visions’ instead features a cast of women of colour, who combine migrant culture and the black and brown experience with obscene wealth and Double Bay melodrama.
It’s a great concept with enormous satiric potential, and an excellent format to display the comedic chops of its cast (Ayeesha Ash, Sereima Adimate, Ebube Uba as the housewives and Richard Tanumi as the moderator). The performance uses video alongside the live performance to imitate the cut aways and flashbacks of reality TV, and there are some inspired and witty moments throughout – I particularly liked the inclusion of the word “estrogenic”.
At its best, it is sharp, fast paced and outrageous. Ash in particular is a standout as Lulu, who shoots quick and cutting burns at her fellow Housewives with eloquence and pitch perfect delivery. The format relies on high energy performances, and a cast that can volley sledges back and forth with rapid pace, and when it works it works beautifully. Unfortunately, it felt very unrehearsed, and there were plenty of lulls and awkward pauses that occasionally sapped the life out of it. Tanumi, as a Shaman-style host-slash-moderator, seemed to be incredibly unfamiliar with the script, literally reading his lines from a book and leaving his co-stars hanging at times. On the whole the housewives were stronger, however Uba and Adimate seemed less comfortable with the dialogue than Ash and they frequently improvised where lines were forgotten – not always to great effect. The roughness of the performance meant that a lot of beats were missed and key moments lost their impact, with plot points getting muddled and punchlines falling flat. It was also disappointingly short, at only half an hour, and as a result felt more like a longish skit rather than a play.
It’s a shame it wasn’t tighter, because there is a lot of promise to the show. Despite the garishness of the outfits and absurdity of the characters, beneath it all lies a clever and surprisingly subtle commentary on Sydney migrant communities, race dynamics and colourism, delivered through the accessible lens of reality TV. There were some great performances and some deliciously vicious dialogue, superb costumes and incredibly fun characters. With a bit of workshopping, I’m excited to see where this will go – hopefully we get a season 2.