Wharf 2, May 18, until June 30
We’re well used to black comedy (gallows-humour style) on our stages, to caustic satire and comedy-drama. But angry comedy? Nakkiah Lui’s Blackie Blackie Brown: The Traditional Owner of Death is sometimes so angry that you’re inclined to flinch and start framing excuses why you, of all people, should not be the next victim of the titular super-avenger.
Since Oedipus Rex (a mere 2,400 years ago) drama has struggled to shock its audiences, with most attempts being puny or second-hand by comparison. Enter Blackie Blackie Brown, which even warns us of its intent at the outset, with huge projections shouting that this is not a story about “reconciliation” or “forgiveness”, each point reinforced by frightening blasts of sound.
It certainly isn’t. Mild-mannered archaeologist Dr Jacqueline Black (Megan Wilding) is visited by the ghost of her great grandmother, who was raped and murdered in a massacre of indigenous people by four white men. The ghost demands she kill all descendants of these men, and this, believe it or not, is where the comedy comes in. Black metamorphoses into a Marvel-style hero wearing a breastplate bearing the Aboriginal flag, and unleashes her carnage in a series of comic-book vignettes and news-item spoofs.
Amid these nestle moments of compelling drama and crime-thriller suspense. In fact Lui, director Declan Greene (for Sydney Theatre Company) and Oh Yeah Wow, the team behind the animations and videos, have not just raided a few usually mutually-exclusive idioms, they’ve looted the whole Genres R Us shop. The play hurtles from house fires and car crashes to non-didactic shards of history, morality and philosophy.
Similarly Oh Yeah Wow’s sensational animations fully interact not just with the work of artist Emily Johnson, designer Elizabeth Gadsby, Verity Hampson (lighting and projections) and Steve Toulmin (sound and music), they interact with the two actors, themselves, sometimes to uproarious effect.
Wilding flicks switches between outrageous superhero/super-villain and impassioned spokeswoman, and Ash Flanders, cleverly applying a narrow acting band-width, plays a dazzling array of the poor sods doomed to pay for the sins of their forbears.
Almost inevitably in this maelstrom the play sometimes loses its way and detours to inanity, but never for long. It’s a shame that the anti-black-armband-history brigade, the patronising commentariat and the out-and-proud racists won’t see this. Then again, they might trash the theatre.