By Lyn Zelen

 Black Ties dramedy of two lovers and two cultures is a celebration for families of all nations.

Black Ties conceived by Writers John Harvey and Tainui Tukiwaho is an interactive audience extravaganza that will leave your jaw aching from laughter.

Co-Directors’ Rachel Maza, Tainui Tukiwaho and the brilliant cast from Australia’s ILBIJERRI Theatre and New Zealand’s TE RÈHIA Theatre companies, share the experiences of resilience, forgiveness, and forever friendships despite a dark joint history of colonisation.

Black Ties is a stand out show in the Asia TOPA 2020 festival, appropriately featuring on ‘Country’ in the Pavilion Room at the Arts Centre Melbourne. The authentic production will have you wondering whether you are witnessing a performance or partaking in a hilarious virtual experience.

The wonderful story is an exciting journey of discussion, song, dance and traditional ceremonies. Some of the sarcastic flying comments happen so fast; you will barely have time to take a breath between gasping and laughing out loud.

In the picturesque background of the Australian Blue Mountains, we see the lovers enjoying a jog and then stop to take a breath.

Kane (Mark Coles Smith) plucks up the courage to propose to Hera (Tuakoi Ohia) only to be prematurely interrupted by Kane’s adopted brother, Jermaine (Dion Williams) and the Band (Brendan Boney, Mayella Dewis and Laughton Kora).

Kane starts over on bent-knee and Hera can’t commit until they meet each other’s families. The lovers and Jermaine embark on a flight to Hera’s hometown in New Zealand.

The first traditional welcoming ceremony almost results in an altercation due to the flirtatious advances from Hera’s sister Shannon (Brady Peeti) towards Jermaine. Hera also reunites with her mother Sylvia, (Lana Garland), sister Shannon and her younger sister nicknamed Tama-Girl by her dad Robert (Tainui Tukiwaho).

The women break into dance and song with a fabulously funny rendition of “Raining Men”. In extremely fine voice, the comedic relief singing and dancing overrides the mounting ‘male tension’.

Future father-in-law Robert is still unsure of Kane’s intentions towards his daughter. To build trust and bond the ‘Blackfellas’ Kane and Jermaine must prove themselves and join their new ‘Maori father’ and ‘brother Blackie’ in a bout of night hunting in the local bush.

Back at home with her mother, Sylvia cautions Hera not to follow in her footsteps—abandoned by her ex-husband Robert with three young children. Then younger sister Tama-Girl secretly collaborates on a song with her dad Robert to help him win her mum back.

The couple return to Melbourne and receive a warm welcome from his well wishing ‘helicopter mother’ Ruth (Lisa Maza) and she quizzes Kane whether the marriage is due to pregnancy. There’s no sibling rivalry between Kane and his sister Althea (Dalara Williams), they share a humorous name-calling greeting.

Kane catches up with his Uncle Mick (Jack Charles) for some man-to-man advice.

The great Jack Charles is superb as the over-chatty Elder. The audience gave a collective gasp, laughed then clapped fervently when he questions colonisation by wiping his dirty shoes with a ‘Union Jack’ hanky. It’s just one of Uncle Mick’s many fantastic comedic scene-stealing moments in Black Ties.

Kane becomes embroiled in a heated discussion with his mother over the importance of connection with family and drops a ‘Stolen Generation’ bombshell.

The skillful multi-faceted Band performs minor acting roles, sing and punctuate scene changes with catchy tunes. The set AV, lighting, sound and costume design are flawless and the two-hour performance contains a substantial interval.

The audience is ushered back into the Pavilion, where all the seating and tables had been magnificently transformed into a wedding reception.

While Hera and Kane are tied up with wedding photos, the families’ parade down the red carpet between the ‘wedding guests’ (the audience), to the bridal table and band on stage. Robert assumes the title of MC and Tama-Girl films the bridal party with a video camera—the live footage appears on surrounding TVs’ in the Pavilion.

The happy couple arrives and the speeches are given. Then a combination of newly found frenetic ‘family love’ and alcoholic beverages ignite short fuses between new ‘sisters’ Shannon and Alethea, Sylvia and Robert and all the bridal party storm out of the reception except Jermaine and Uncle Mick.

This unique production and slick stage management co-ordinates the bridal parties storming out and Tama-Girl’s ‘real time’ footage of their outside antics is relayed to the TV’s to entertain the audience.

Do Hera and Kane stay together? Will Robert re-kindle Sylvia’s love? Will Kane cut Ruth’s apron strings? Do they listen to common sense from a family Elder?

First Nations around the world have never forgotten the importance of love among all peoples and culture. Black Ties is a thought-provoking, feel-good show leaving a smile on your face long after the wedding cake is cut.

 Performances: 5, Costumes: 5, Sets: 5, Lighting: 5,  Sound: 5, Direction: 5,Stage Management: 5.