Review: Blackie Blackie Brown: The Traditional Owner of Death, Malthouse Theatre

Andrea Simpson

Telling this story requires great strength, and the script holds a burning anger that can only be derived from deep sorrow.
Review: Blackie Blackie Brown: The Traditional Owner of Death, Malthouse Theatre

Elaine Crombie and Dalara Williams in Blackie Blackie Brown. Photo by Phoebe Powell.

As a playwright, how do you balance humour and anger with such force that you have audience members in fits of laughter one minute and then tears the next?

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Just ask playwright Nakkiah Lui (Black Comedy, Kiki and Kitty) writer of Blackie Blackie Brown, a tour de force that turns colonisation on its head.

Working for a deplorable company, Dr Jacqueline Black (Dalara Williams) is an archaeologist on a dig where she unearths the gravesite of an unknown massacre. Jacqueline finds a skull and learns it's the remains of her great-great-grandmother, who was witness to the execution-style killing of her sons  – Jacqueline’s great uncles –  by a group of white men before she was brutally raped and murdered.

Resurrected, the spirit of Jacqueline’s great-great-grandmother (Elaine Crombie via video appearance) charges her with a task: to right the wrongs of the past by killing the 400 descendants of the men who brutally massacred their mob. Bestowed with powers, and a clever AI computer: A.C.O.O.N. (voiced by Peter Carroll), Jacqueline is transformed into Blackie Blackie Brown a kick-ass vigilante superhero on a path of total vengeance.

 Ash Flanders and Dalara Williams in Blackie Blackie Brown. Photo by Phoebe Powell.

This play is a sleek, colourful, fast-paced adventure that brings the house down with its acerbic sense of humour. Utilising incredible projected animations by the very talented young illustrator Emily Johnson, the story is told with only two actors on stage – though the play is brimming with characters as several video appearances are also projected.

Dalara Williams is courageous as Dr Jacqueline 'Blackie' Brown giving a fearless and emotional performance, while Ash Flanders (Lilith: The Jungle Girl) is an absolute star as he transforms into several characters without missing a beat.

Telling this story requires great strength, and the script holds a burning anger that can only be derived from deep sorrow.

Lui’s writing style doesn’t hold back. Her social commentary is biting and clever, and she’s not afraid of changing up the play’s energy with silly moments that interject humour throughout the narrative. But ultimately the message of Blackie Blackie Brown is not about vengeance, its a message about joining forces, and tackling these issues together, head-on.

Ash Flanders and Dalara Williams in Blackie Blackie Brown. Photo by Phoebe Powell.

The story of colonisation is not just an Australian story, but a shared history that has occurred all over the world. It was only last week that a summit was held at Old Parliament House in Canberra where First Nations leaders from across the globe were invited to share their Indigenous people’s experiences. Stan Grant reflected that, ‘Each shares also a legacy of colonisation, of legislative discrimination, policies of often enforced assimilation and the struggle to find a legitimate political voice in nation states that have been imposed upon them.’

Powerhouse narratives such as Blackie Blackie Brown can give voice to the long-held anger of people; an anger and frustration that has been unacknowledged for far too long. Lui makes the stage a perfect place to explore the present day experience of an intergenerational history.

Important narratives like Blackie Blackie Brown are finally appearing on our stages, with stories written by women of colour who are self-determining how their stories should be told.

Discrimination against marginalised people in our society – including Indigenous peoples, migrants, asylum seekers, LGBTQI people, and people living with disability – is still unfortunately prevalent. But I left the Malthouse Theatre with a feeling that maybe, just maybe, a change is building. 

Rating: 5 stars ★★★★★

Blackie Blackie Brown: The Traditional Owner of Death

BY / Nakkiah Lui
DIRECTION / Declan Greene
CAST / Ash Flanders, Dalara Williams
DESIGN /  Elizabeth Gadsby
ANIMATION & VIDEO / Oh Yeah Wow
LIGHTING & PROJECTION DESIGN / Verity Hampson
COMPOSITION & SOUND DESIGN / Steve Toulmin
CONCEPT ARTIST / Emily Johnson

5-29 July, 2018
Beckett Theatre, Malthouse Theatre, Melbourne

What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

Andrea Simpson is ArtsHub's Feature Writer and Reviews Editor. Andrea is a Filipino-Australian writer with a love for diverse Australian stories. She is curious about all forms of art, though she has an especially keen interest in the publishing sector.

Andrea has had short stories published in various anthologies, and is currently working on her first novel.  

You can follow Andrea on Instagram @andi_jayyy

 

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