It’s the kind of play that fosters hours of conversation about the charisma of its actors to unconscious cultural constructs, but one point doesn’t need discussion: buy a ticket. Queensland Theatre’s season debut is a play you don’t want — and shouldn’t — miss.
Black is the New White welcomes us into the holiday home of the Gibsons, an upper-middle class Aboriginal family where eldest daughter Charlotte (Shari Sebbens) is bringing her new fiancée Francis (James Bell) to meet her parents for the first time.
Charlotte is a successful lawyer becoming jaded with her career. Francis is an experimental classical composer and cello player who has been living off a trust fund. Father Ray (Tony Briggs) is a leftwing politician who believes himself to be the next Martin Luther King, Jr. while nursing a political rivalry over Twitter.
Unfortunately, any hope for a peaceful Christmas is disrupted when it’s revealed Francis’ family is connected to Ray’s white, conservative opposition (Geoff Morrell). Secrets are dredged to light; alliances fracture, shift, and evolve; food is thrown; chaos ensues.
Taking on political issues in art always runs the risk of something overly serious or sentimental, something that may demarcate one side as good and the other as evil — in other words, something that may cast issues into black and white. Lui tactfully sidesteps these pitfalls, knowing that pairing playfulness with political issues can render both more powerful.
The performances are strung together by a natural, charming chemistry. Each cast member has a crisp comedic timing; the script gives them a lot to work with, and they don’t disappoint. All the characters — from Charlotte to her baby-obsessed, fashion designer sister Rose (Miranda Tapsell) to the hilarious and magnetic Narrator (Luke Carroll) — function as archetypes while emerging as complex, flawed individuals. They inspire laughter and empathy, and despite the differences and tensions between them, you find yourself rooting for everyone.
A daring, poignant comedy that is as heartwarming as it is thought provoking, Black is the New White demands to be seen. At the very least, you know you’re in for a good laugh.
Black is the New White runs until 17 February at QPAC.
Readers also enjoyed seeing the Socials from opening night of this performance.