Review by Chris Hosking
The first time Blackie Blackie Brown was presented at the Malthouse, I didn’t see it. It’s officially back, and, for those that missed it, or have misplaced doubt for whatever reason, you have an opportunity here: GO. GO AND SEE BLACKIE BLACKIE BROWN!
This show is hilarious, heart-warming, brave, creative and just generally brilliant theatre, and hats should all collectively go off to those involved in the making here. This might be the best thing to grace the Malthouse stage in the last 3 years.
Nakkiah Lui, the playwright / brains and heart behind the show has the best words to describe her show: it’s a “live-action comic book”. A super-heroine origins story, so think Batman Begins, but with our hero as young, female and Indigenous. Think of a revenge-fantasy storyline that juggles centuries of race and gendered violence as well as questions of inclusivity, healing, representation. And now think, local community theatre pantomime levels of play, camp and joy, combined with the sharpest edge of playwrighting, directing and acting professionalism. Think of a loud enthusiastic audience, with laughter as well as tears. And then finally throw in animated and visual effects, as this show is a perfect blend of live-action with two actors in hyper-drive mode, with projected animation and video effects, and a further cast of 12 appearing or playing voice only characters. The show is all this and more. It’s a riot.
Aiding Nakkiah Lui in other production roles are: Declan Greene as director, Elizabeth Gadsby as designer, Verity Hampson on lighting and projection design, Steve Toumlin on sound design, Lyndall Grant as fight choreographer and Mike Greaney and Christina Remnant and the larger Oh Yeah Wow team on animation and video design and production. They’ve all done great work. To be able to choreograph each element together is a massive feat, and the balance of every element is pitch perfect.
Greene’s direction clearly borrows from camp cinema across a range of genres, horror at first, and then revenge/action and melodrama, and it’s all spot on. It’s ridiculous and joyous as long as it should be, but also creates moments of truth and catharsis easily. Greene has clearly done excellent work here pulling everything together, and the work with the actors hasn’t taken a backseat to everything else which would have been technically complex.
And boy do the actors smash this out of the park. Tahlee Fereday plays our hero, and she’s all energy and power. She’s continuously playing with the dial of her emotional, physical and vocal projection to match the tone of each scene, and is as comfortable interacting with her great-great-great-grandmother through video, as she is rolling through fight choreography to impassioned moments and dramatic monologues. It’s a staggering performance.
Opposite Fereday on stage is Ash Flanders, who plays a host of characters and victims to Blackie Blackie Brown’s onslaught, as well as the big baddie. He looks inexhaustible as he appears and re-appears, and he makes all the work look like simple fun. Are each of his characters super defined and separated from each other? No. Do we care? Absolutely not. This is charming work from a performer of great skill.
Gadsby has designed a set that’s interactive, simple, and works as a backdrop for all the other technical elements the show has to offer. It allows for surprises and shocks, it’s got dynamism with multiple levels and quite literally looks like comic book panels. She’s also designed what might be my favourite bespoke prop / stage effect that I’ve ever seen, which makes itself forcefully known in the climactic moment where our heroine faces down the villain.
Toumlin’s sound design is wonderful, both imitation and pastiche of composers like Hans Zimmer. It’s a sound design that heightens and dramaticises moments one moment, and pokes fun at them the next.
It’s not just that this is theatre done excellent, or that it’s a joyful, affirming night out – this production is timely and brave. It’s theatre made with energy and empathy, taking a narrative that’s so often only spoken in notes of pain and trauma, and infusing it with life, reconciliation and laughter. We should be so lucky for this to last.
Set: 5 / 5
Costume: 5 / 5
Sound: 5 / 5
Lighting: 5 / 5
Performances: 5 / 5
Stage Management: 5 / 5
Direction: 5 / 5
Images: Tim Grey
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