Review: Blackie Blackie Brown: The Traditional Owner Of Death (Sydney Theatre Company)

Venue: Wharf 2 Sydney Theatre Company (Walsh Bay NSW), May 12 – Jun 30, 2018
Playwright: Nakkiah Lui
Director: Declan Greene
Cast: Ash Flanders, Megan Wilding
Images by Daniel Boud

Theatre review
Dr Jacqueline Brown is a mild-mannered archaeologist, who spends her days looking for evidence of the Australian past. Aboriginal histories are often kept buried, so it only makes sense that she should take matters into her own hands, in order that the primal urges to connect with her cultural heritage could find gratification. Learning that some of one’s family had been subject to genocide however, will have quite extreme effects on any person’s psyche. Nakkiah Lui’s Blackie Blackie Brown: The Traditional Owner Of Death charts the rise of a new superhero. A parody of blaxpolitation and Hollywood superhero films, the play depicts the underdog’s ascent and revenge, in a wildly fantastical setting typical of those genres.

Inspired by 70s blaxploitation tropes, antagonists in Blackie Blackie Brown are characterised as the white establishment, but more radical is its requirement that we see regular white folk, those we are conditioned to think of as “ordinary Australians”, as the enemy. In our heroine’s audacious mission to kill 400 white people, each individual’s sins and transgressions fade into irrelevance, and we have to confront instead, the legacy of illegitimate occupation, and the ongoing usurping of space and privilege, by the ruthless project of white supremacy, to which this nation has fallen prey over the last two-and-a-half centuries.

The message is a hard one to swallow, for the predominantly white audiences who will find themselves directly and personally castigated, but as with all good works of comedy, it is the humour that provides magical mollification, as though its sense of absurdity provides relief from the harsh truth. The laughter that Blackie Blackie Brown delivers, is relentless and uproarious. Lui’s very astringent jokes are cutting, sometimes controversially so, offering its players plentiful opportunity to raise temperatures in the auditorium.

Megan Wilding is a mesmerising leading lady, effortlessly alternating between the earnest vulnerability of Dr Brown and her alter ego Blackie Blackie Brown’s extravagant vivacity. The character’s barbarous adventures could easily have us turning against her, but Wilding is impossible to dislike. Full of charm, and with a striking presence, we devour all that she brings, whether madcap, or profoundly authentic. In accompaniment is the high camp stylings of Ash Flanders, equally endearing in a range of screwball guises, each one hilarious and wonderfully inventive.

The pair is well-rehearsed, for an intricate production that involves extensive use of visual projections (animated by Oh Yeah Wow, designed by Verity Hampson), allowing the show to leap across spaces, geographical and metaphysical, with great efficiency. Filmic influences, particularly in relation to the cartoonish violence being portrayed, are cleverly incorporated in this live meets video amalgamation, by director Declan Greene, whose vision seems boundless in its daring and grandness. Also marvellous is the work on sound by Nate Edmondson and Steve Toulmin, who keep adrenaline pumping for the duration of the piece, having us under control with an exquisite blend of sounds that seems to have direct authority over our viscera. Technical aspects although not entirely flawless, are complex and precise, and there is no denying the scale of ambition necessary for this show to come together; the stage management team is worthy of commendation.

There are few places where minorities can speak freely about their own oppression. The nature of the beast determines that those under the thumb, are well-behaved and polite in the presence of their oppressor, or risk having to suffer even greater abuse. Art has the ability to let all voices be heard. A society that believes in art, will allow a space for a kind of honesty that other spheres are unable to withstand. Art encourages communication in ways that are truthful, and compensate where regular language proves deficient. To kill 400 innocent white people is a ridiculous proposition that anyone would disregard, but to be able to understand the idea beyond the literal, would bring us deep into a discussion that Australians need to have.

www.sydneytheatre.com.au