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Review - Black is the New White: the funniest new play in years

Let's dance: Ray (Tony Briggs) and Dennison (Geoff Morrell). Photo by Prudence Upton

Right: Luke Carroll as The Narrator. Photo by Rene Vaile

Black is the New White

By Nakkiah Luii

Directed by Paige Rattray

Queensland Theatre presentation of a Sydney Theatre Company production


Queensland Performing Arts Centre

South Bank


Season: February 1-17. Duration: two hours 30 minutes including interval. Bookings: or 136 346.

What a magnificence start to the 2018 Queensland Theatre program. This is without doubt the funniest new production I have seen in years. The script is hilarious, the characters well drawn, the acting just about perfect and the direction (with a cast of nine) spot on.

The concept is very Romeo and Juliet but with a mighty, purely Aussie, twist. The plot involves a well-off middle class Aboriginal family that is proud of its heritage and its place in modern times. Ray is a politician and activist, daughter Charlotte is a lawyer and Rose, married to a black former star rugby player, has her own fashion house.

It is Christmas and the family gathers at the sumptuous holiday house to celebrate. And it is all pulled together by the Narrator, a terrific piece of work from Luke Carroll whose interaction with the audience was superb.

The proverbial however hits the fan when Ray and wife Joan arrive to find Charlotte is engaged to Francis, a white itinerant ‘cellist' who dreams of being an avante garde composer and whose only income is from the family trust.

Things get worse when Francis’s parents arrive. Dennison Smith, a right wing politician is Ray’s worst enemy. What a fabulous setting for a rom-com!

And fabulous the entire evening was. It ran ten minutes overtime for laughter pauses!

The laughter came from lines, timing, physical comedy, character clashes – in fact every comedy device you could think of. There were serious moments too, Aboriginality was explored, and racial tensions were explored, even women’s lib and sexual attitudes, but angry clashes ended in a belly laugh rather than tears.

Poor white boy Francis, born with a foot in his mouth was superbly played by Tom Stokes: his nude scene was comedy at its best.

But then there was no weak link, because all the characters were so different, all the actors bounced of each other like Keystone Cops (Google it!). Ray the ego tripper who compares himself to Martin Luther King is played by Tony Briggs and his scenes with his mortal enemy Dennison Smith (Geoff Morrell) are theatrical magic. The would-be rap dance sequence was eye-popping!

The pairing between the diminutive but fiery Rose (Miranda Tapsell) and huge Sonny (Anthony Taufa) was equally successful with a lot of physical jokes to keep the audience laughing.

Trying to calm the waters was Ray’s wife Joan, a dark horse indeed, was played by Melodie Reynolds-Diara and frantically trying to add a serious moment or two was Shari Sebbens as Charlotte and Vannessa Dowling was brilliant as the ditzy Marie Smith, Dennison’s wife.

Here again was a performance that slowly and cleverly revealed a different side of the mild-mannered wife.

The set too was great to look at too with lots of obvious white space!

This was play that kept me intrigued and laughing and expectant as the twists and unexpected turns in the plot keep slipping out. It was a great night out!

The cast rocks on at the after party. Photo: Deanne Scott

Below: Anthony Taufa, Melodie Reynolds-Diarra & Shari Sebbens. Photo by Rene Vaile

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