Finally, Australia gets its own superhero! But, knowing the work and activism of playwright Nakkiah Lui, it’s not going to be that simple. Following Blackie Blackie Brown along her quest for vengeance, this new Australian work is loud, provocative, bloody, and a lot of fun.
While investigating a site for Indigenous remains, archaeologist Dr Jacqueline Black uncovers a mass grave including a magical skull that puts her in direct communication with the spirit of her great-great-grandmother. So begins BBB’s task of killing all descendants of the while men who massacred her ancestors. Target count: 400.
There is so much going on with this production. The stage design by Elizabeth Gadsby is a deceptively simple white, sloping grid that opens, cracks, slides, and swings throughout the performance in an innovative use of actor-set interaction. Literally add on top of that elaborate and hilarious projections including illustrations from Emily Johnson and animations from the team Oh Yeah Wow and the show very quickly becomes something so much bigger than a play. The way the two person cast was able to manoeuvre the action across the stage and within the animations was exciting and an entirely different multi-media experience.
BBB/Dr Jacqueline Black (Megan Wilding) was vibrant, charismatic, and a powerful badass. After Kill Climate Deniers at Griffin Theatre earlier this year, it’s a pleasure to see women placed in the centre of action genres and physically demanding roles without their femininity or identity being used as weakness or degradingly sexualised. Perhaps it’s overly cynical to find this representation refreshing but take a peak at almost the entirety of superhero media and get back to me. Ash Flanders, who plays all of BBB’s victims, brings hilarity and life to each character before their death throes. The variety in his physicality, voice work, and general characterisation was wonderful and silly without becoming hammy or stage-stealing. Bear in mind, the actor’s comedy and the satirical laugh-out-loud nature of the production does not diminish the fact that this is a bloody and violent story in conversation with Australia’s even bloodier history and present relationship with our Indigenous peoples.
Director Declan Greene did an excellent job maintaining the momentum of the script and production even during the emotional moments of the fates of Dr Black’s ancestors and the “Make It Right” campaign. The ability to step in and out of the absurdity of the comedy to address the application of the production’s moral reality to the outside world and history was powerful and well-handled. It’s a testament to Lui’s writing and the entire creative team that brought Blackie Blackie Brown to the stage that the protagonist can travel between fighting a man’s enormous inflatable testicles and a pure moment of political and emotional doubt in an inner-West ostensible saint’s kitchen with ease.
Even with the outrageous plot and overwhelming design, this is a production that speaks directly to its audience and contemporary context without sugar-coating or tempering. It’s an outspoken piece of contemporary activist theatre on Sydney’s largest stage and I hope, in years to come, it will not stand alone.
Blackie Blackie Brown: the Traditional Owner of Death is playing at STC’s Wharf 2 Theatre May 18 – June 30.