Black is the New White: A New Kind of Rom-Com for the Stage
Katherine Sullivan | On 01, Mar 2018
Two politically powerful families at war. A son and daughter helplessly in love, defying their parents. You’ve heard this story before but what if Romeo was white, Juliet was black, and the war mainly fought on Twitter?
Black is the New White isn’t afraid to ask the tough questions of race, gender and sexuality, and in turn, provides a hilarious and thought-provoking night out. It explores every taboo dinner table conversation. Nakkiah Lui’s play hit QPAC this February after a sold-out season at Sydney Theatre Company. If this latest production is anything to go by, Queensland Theatre Company is in for one suburb year.
Black is the New White follows hotshot lawyer Charlotte Gibson and penniless avant-garde cellist Francis Smith who are engaged. One thing stands in the way: Charlotte’s the favourite daughter of Australia’s most charismatic Aboriginal politician, and Francis is the son of his dour and stridently conservative rival. It’s been mutual hatred for decades, sparked by an infamous shoe-throwing incident on the floor of parliament.
As the two bitterly entrenched families collide in the Gibson’s glitzy holiday mansion over an Aussie Christmas dinner, the long-standing feud comes to a head. Cue a sharp-witted and riotously funny struggle for dominance where barbed insults fly, secrets come flooding out and hypocrisies of all kinds “race, gender, religion, status” are mercilessly skewered.
Black is the New White is beautifully written by the young Australian playwright Nikkiah Lui. A Gamillaroi and Torres Strait Islander woman from Mount Druitt, Lui wanted to create a play about an Aboriginal family that didn’t come from death or oppression. The play examines race and politics in a comical and entertaining manner. It is a step away from the stereotypical Aboriginal characters that we are used to seeing.
The characters are well-executed and there was not one weak performance from the cast of nine, who seem to work in a chaotic order across the stage. Shari Sebbens is captivating as Charlotte, the young lawyer who begins to question her lifestyle, cultural identity, and privilege. Her level-headedness is juxtaposed by Luke Carroll’s portrayal of Francis, an awkward musician who lives off his weekly allowance provided to him by his wealthy parents. His lack of social skills and eagerness to be liked by Charlotte’s parents provides many laugh out loud moments. The scenes between Ray (Tony Brigg) and his sworn enemy Dennison Smith (Geoff Morrell) were a crowd favourite. The comedic timing and dare I say, dance moves, were spot on. The pairing between the feisty yet loveable Rose (Miranda Tapsell) and the extremely tall Sonny (Anthony Taufa) was just as funny with the banter and fiery arguments present.
Black is the New White would work marvelously as a feature film. I couldn’t help but narrow in on moments that the eye of the camera could enhance. For example, the tender moments between sisters, and the point of view of Francis’ mother, Marie, who watches on in amusement and pleasure. However, the inclusion of an on-stage narrator tried to fill the role of the audience’s camera. He informed us of their backstories, juicy secrets, and even orchestrated a rather impressive clap along.
Black is the New White is pure comedy gold. As the lights turned back on in the playhouse theatre, I was unable to wipe the grin off my face. The gentlemen beside me, turned, and loudly stated that it was easily the funniest piece of theatre that he had seen. With the grin still plastered on my face, I couldn’t have agreed more.