There’s no point to reading this review of Nakkiah Lui’ Blackie Blackie Brown. Just go. This reviewer promises you a rollicking good time with all the hallmarks you expect of Lui’s writing: sharp, incisive humour, a no-holds barred skewering of racism, sexism, 21st century political correctness and strategising, and the kind of inspired use of set that would have Beckett wishing he could come back from the dead, to try his hand at her style.
In more detail, Lui’s Blackie Blackie Brown follows the story of Dr Jacqueline Black, an archaeologist who discovers the skull of her grandmother in a hidden mass grave. What follows from there is the stuff of comic book fodder: compelled by the spirits of her ancestors to avenge them by killing the (400) descendants of their oppressors, humble archaeologist transforms herself into bloodthirsty superhero via the help of a very meta training montage. But if this doesn’t sound like your common theatre shtick, never fear. Lui’s keen to take the piss out of all those MARVEL-esque hallmarks like the denotation of a warrior’s arsenal, both in dialogue, use of projected comic book ’titles’ and through character choice, and the result is that rare thing: satire that both fully embraces its , and lovingly ruffles its hair nonetheless.
As Jacqueline Black/Blackie Blackie Brown, Dalara Williams has the unenviable task of shifting between demure and demurring archaeologist to still-conflicted but far-more-badass superhero. Throughout it all, Williams breathes a sincere warmth and worn-down compassion into Black/Blackie Blackie Brown’s choices, although in this reviewer’s opinion, it’s an early, that she shines hardest. But as her counterpart in this two hander, it’s Ash Flanders who steals the show. Ripping through a series of different roles — theatre-going white male (and a great intro point for audiences to get used to Lui’s sense of humour), politician through to salesman, to a whole wide range of schemers and one or two of the good guys— he and Williams’ chemistry absolutely crackles. That it’s just the pair of them in a range of guises, plus a couple of animated sidekicks, holding the audience’s attention at every turn is hard to believe.
And the set. Oh, the set — that’s the third co-star, really. Designed and animated by studio Oh Yeah Wow, with illustrations from local indigenous artist Emily Johnson, the set doubles as everything from wry narrator to labyrinth of passageways and montage screens, to the stage on which the aforementioned animated extra actors play out, but fundamentally, functions as the movie screen that Blackie Blackie Brown’s story plays out against. The occasional call-out to the never goes amiss either.
The marvel of this Malthouse production is that no one element outshines the rest: each work in powerful, chemical tandem with the rest. Moreover, while it’s a laugh a minute, Lui’s real aim — to get audiences thinking about the narrative and intersection of races, and to also satirise the ways the more powerful engage with the concept of race and entitlement— isn’t the kind of thing that’s thrust upon the viewer. It’s just there.
And the result is the kind of thing — to circle back — this reviewer doesn’t just encourage you to see, but implores you to experience.