Review: Blackie Blackie Brown

Superhero of revenge, Blackie Blackie Brown, is hilarious and subversive

By Lois Maskiell

You know you’re in for a killer ride when an archaeologist turned superhero embarks on a revenge quest after the discovery of her great-great-grandmother’s skull. Nakkiah Lui’s Blackie Blackie Brown: The Traditional Owner of Death has opened at Malthouse Theatre after its premiere at Sydney Theatre Company. Armed with ironic humour and shocking violence, it’s a powerful combination that makes for biting political commentary and pokes – not just fun – at issues rooted in Australian society.

Dr Jacqueline Black (Dalara Williams), an archaeologist and cultural surveyor, is employed to assess the building site for a new factory. Her manager Dennis (Ash Flanders) couldn’t care less about the skull she finds or the mass grave she discovers, caring only for business to continue as usual.

When the spirit of Jacqueline’s great-great-grandmother (a projection of the hilarious Elaine Crombie) springs from the skull, Jacqueline relives the massacre in a potent performance of richly visual language. In her vision she’s instructed to kill the remaining 400 descendants of the man who raped and murdered her great-great-grandmother and massacred her ancestors some 200 years ago.

Blackie Blackie Brown - Malthouse
Ash Flanders and Dalara Williams. Photograph by Phoebe Powell.

The superbly vivid content that features sharp lighting effects, spirits and spatters of blood makes for visually gripping theatre. This is aided by Oh Yeah Wow’s ingenious animation and Emily Johnson’s concept design that together beef up the lean cast of two. Director Declan Greene (of Sisters Grimm and current Resident Artist at Malthouse) uses their projections – with animated characters interacting with live performers – in a novel blend of theatre and film.

Blackie Blackie Brown can hardly be called comedy as there are moments that clearly no one should laugh at. As the action oscillates between comedy and violence, anxiety is built up before it’s abruptly broken with comedic relief. Take the encounter with the man clad in KKK robes as an example: We hear him whinge about being called a bigot claiming instead to be a “traditionalist” with a right to “free speech”. He then launches into a series of racist jokes about Indigenous people. The comedic relief follows when Jacqueline responds with her own joke, “Whaddaya call a dead white man?”

These moments that confront colonialism and racism head-on are pressed against a playfully blood-thirsty revenge plot. The humour provides not only relief but also arouses a sense of discomfort – such is the skill of Nakkiah and the team.

Dalara Williams as the mild-mannered archaeologist is understated and relatable, which no doubt helps win the crowd’s support when she transforms into the avenging superhero Blackie. Ash Flanders transitions between characters brilliantly, showcasing his vocal and comic power in roles that range from a young hippy to all of Blackie’s targets.

Toward the end the plot grew somewhat fragmented and technical difficulties, though expected on opening night, made it hard to follow. Despite these minor setbacks the production was utterly original and outstandingly produced. In this hilarious revenge thriller Nakkiah Lui takes pertinent issues of colonialism and race and soaks them in subversive fun.

Blackie Blackie Brown: The Traditional Owner of Death is sharp, ironic and packed with political commentary.

Blackie Blackie Brown: The Traditional Owner of Death is being performed at Malthouse Theatre until 29 July. Tickets can be puchased online and by calling the box office on  03 9685 5111.

Photographs: Phoebe Powell

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