At the start of the year, we invited four local Bankstown residents to join UTP’s Artistic Director Rosie Dennis, for a regular date to the theatre. Rosie has chosen three shows for the group to attend throughout the year. We organise the ticket and transport and in return the reviewers will write a short review of the work.
The first show for our four members is Black is the New White presented by the Sydney Theatre Company. The show is described as a laugh-out-loud, provocative new romantic comedy by fearless columnist and award-winning playwright Nakkiah Lui.
The second show our reviewers will attend is The Lonely Spirits Variety Hour … and a half presented by the Bankstown Arts Centre. The Lonely Spirits Variety Hour … and a half directed by Felix Cross is “… a late-night radio show for lonely people, featuring spiritual visions, romantic advice, insomniac callers, and guest performances”.
Diving for Pearls by Katherine Thomson, presented by Griffin Theatre is the third show we will attend with our reviewers – this is a story about aspiration and is a reinvention of one of the great Australian plays.
What did our reviewers think of Black is the New White?
“… it was thoroughly enjoyable, laugh-out-loud funny and thought provoking. This is certainly a play that lingers.” Lauren
“The play itself is engaging, with belly laughing appeal.” Peta
By Amanda Thomson
I was listening to the radio the other day and heard that the universe is made up of 5% stuff (the stuff we see – planets, stars, rocks, people, trees, microwaves, telephones…), 25% dark matter (something scientists know exists but no one has ever seen or measured) and 70% dark energy (a theoretical force no one has yet been able to prove). This made me think about the play Black is the New White. The things we see make up only a tiny amount of the whole picture.
Ostensibly, Black is the New White is a play about two radically different families on different sides of politics. One is a proud Australian indigenous family whose politics and life work have been built upon their cultural identity. The other is a conservative, white Anglo Australian family whose politics lie largely in opposition to Indigenous rights and affairs.
However, there is a lot of unseen dark energy in this play. Really the two families share a lot in common. Both are wealthy families who have made their money from the advantages they reap as members of their respective cultures. Both share values such as wanting their children to marry people like them, aspiring after wealth and recognition, and living a comfortable nuclear family existence. Being a part of a powerful and privileged elite has made them more similar than different; this has also separated them from many people within their own cultures.
Despite the weightiness of this message, the play was entertaining, cheeky, quirky and very easy to watch. I particularly liked the narrator, who added background information as well as witty, wry comments. He made it clear this wasn’t a play which took itself too seriously. Black is the New White gave me much to mull over, but did this in a way that has left me with many fun memories and hilarious mental images (the dance off between the two fathers springs to mind). I would recommend this play to any Australian; it is as essential viewing as classic Australian shows such as Frontline or The Castle.
By Kim Jackson
It was strange seeing Aboriginal characters being on the receiving end of “riches” and there were some weighty questions with some weighty answers but in all the performance was a lot of fun. You couldn’t help but laugh out loud at the raw comedy even if it was “politically incorrect”.
Every character was different, delightful and excelled in their own personality and task.The split-level set was clever; perhaps constructed as a precinct of war/peace and/or rich/poor. In all I came away feeling good after last night’s production.
Love is Never Black and White.
PS. It crossed my mind briefly: National Lampoon’s Vacation meets The Bold and the Beautiful.
By Peta O’Flaherty
Black is the New White, a provocative, satirical comedy combined with postmodern ideological undertones written for an all-inclusive audience by Nakkiah Lui. Directed by Paige Rattray, starring Sharia Sebbons. The play is set in the glamorous home of Ray and Joan Gibson (Tony Briggs and Melodie Reynolds-Diarra), Aboriginal community leaders in their financially comfortable late middle age. It is Christmas, the family is getting together and the scene is set for an exploration of the complexities of an intercultural modern family and the endearing romantic hopes of a young couple.
The play itself is engaging, with belly laughing appeal. As an audience member I was surprised to experience an ease of connection to the families and yet confused as to how to respond to the affluent lifestyle the play was set in. Lui’s threading through of thought provoking discourses travelled like undercurrents surfacing at varying stages of the play. This like a startling poke, drawing the observer to wake up and consider change and its effect on our families, our lifestyle our culture.
In one sense the subordinate themes that were entwined in the storytelling captured a sense of futurism while painting a picture of the present. In the play, the protagonist provides a collaborative and comforting support for the audience while challenging us to acknowledge issues of power, privilege, and justice. A journey filled with mixture of humour, surprise, and familiarity whilst presenting ideological changes that do not allow room for complacency. The play was thought provoking and also light enough to be considered as a Romantic comedy.
I recommend the reader to join the growing number of people who have seen Black is the New White, for themselves.
By Lauren Julian
Tuesday evening requires a certain level of commitment, after a day of working it is so much easier to just go home and have a glass of red. But no… off we go and after ninety minutes, arrived just a snitch late to the correct theatre. Having a screen outside and being ushered in at an appropriate time to minimise disruption to other guests is a sterling idea. It kept us in the loop and when convenient (12 minutes later) we discreetly entered and picked up the flow quite easily.
The set design was tiered, three levels and all used extremely well. The weavings and artwork were beautiful, appropriate and reflected the play’s theme.
The narrator was the thread that combined all of the characters together and clarified their roles and interaction. Jovial, discrete when not in character and a familiar face to all, he did a great job.
Each of the roles was given specific character traits that the audience could relate to and at times the reversal of society’s norms added spice. Individually they held their own and combined, they bounced off each other and the varied alliances and rivalries were amusing and heartfelt at the same time.
The intermission was necessary for a toilet and drink break as well as allowing a refreshing glimpse of the harbour. The length was appropriate and time flew, I was never bored.
Overall it was a thoroughly enjoyable, laugh out loud funny and thought provoking. This is certainly a play that lingers.
What did our writers think of The Lonely Spirits Variety Hour… and a Half?
“I had laughed, smirked, pondered, wondered and been entertained the whole time, but I still didn’t quite know what I’d seen. The show definitely eluded a traditional genre or neatly-packaged definition.” Amanda
By Amanda Thomson
I didn’t know what to expect when I walked into The Lonely Spirits Variety Hour … and a half. I’d never been to a show at the Bankstown Arts Centre before and had never heard of any of the performers so it was all a mystery to me. An hour and a half later, it was still somewhat of a mystery.
I had laughed, smirked, pondered, wondered and been entertained the whole time, but I still didn’t quite know what I’d seen. The show definitely eluded a traditional genre or neatly-packaged definition.
The main performer, Neville Umbrellaman (Nitin Vengurlekar) was outstandingly absurd, painfully quirky and quite brilliant. It was unclear whether we were watching a performer struggling with a variety of idiosyncrasies, or an actor who embodied his strange and quirky character so completely. He seemed unsure at times, but he was such a brilliantly absurd character that it didn’t matter. I felt like I’d taken a trip into Douglas Adam’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and I was happy to be on the ride.
The show swooped through the universe, joyfully poked fun at philosophy and high art, repeated jokes in a way that became novel in itself, and gleefully and irreverently laughed at itself.
The performance was set up as a radio program, run in the wee hours of the morning, outside any kind of primetime listening audience, with Umbrellaman as the radio host. Intermittently, performers (three comedians and a singer/songwriter) appeared as guests on the program, which served to give Umbrellaman a break, as well as a change of scenery to the audience. This worked to varying degrees. The comedians/musician (Jennifer Wong, Penny Greenhalgh, Madeleine Stewart and Zeadala) were each entertaining in themselves. As a coherent whole though, the performances were like pieces of different puzzles, that didn’t always belong together. It was sometimes a jarring fit.
I really liked the feel of the show. It was brilliantly absurd in a way that left you thinking, “what just happened?!”; it was clunky in parts that left you feeling like you were watching a rehearsal; it was irreverent and ridiculous and in parts left the audience gasping with laughter; it definitely left you feeling like you did not know what would happen next.
Overall, I think Nitin Vengurlekar is a unique, brilliant talent who will only grow and grow. His view on the world is absurd, original, fresh and twisted all at once. I look forward to seeing more of what he does. Perhaps the next show may have more continuity between the different performances; however that may also not be in the spirit of the inept, bumbling and dazzling The Lonely Spirits Variety Hour … and a half.
By Lauren Julian
Bankstown Arts Centre is a vibrant and inviting place. Parking is easy and nearby cafes enticing and with people milling about at the entrance before moving up to the theatre.
The concept of a radio show with guests was very good. However, the main character was not engaging and relied too heavily on double meaning of words and quickly going through the script. It was a pity because some of the lines were very clever. But with no pause or emphasis, this was lost and it was hard to maintain attention. A more relaxed style may have improved delivery.
The guest speakers added variety and a distraction. Comedy was now included and some of the talent on show was surprisingly good and thoroughly entertaining.
A distraction was the door being opened and closed, with some people moving in and out. This shows a lack of respect not only for other guests but for the artists as well.
About our Reviewers
Kim is an outdoor enthusiast and a long time resident of the Bankstown LGA. She is an avid theatre goer and cinephile who loves good food and wine. Kim is also an animal rights activist and has a passion for the environment.
Lauren is a primary school teacher who has lived her whole life in the Bankstown area.
She loves the arts, creates artworks and attends many productions throughout the year.
Lauren also actively participates in the local community and has a passion for the environment.
Peta loves spending her time dreaming up garden scapes for her yard at home in Condell Park. She enjoys using creative arts in her work as a narrative therapist and uses documenting and storytelling as a way to support people’s hopes for their lives. A recent dance performance Peta was particularly impressed with, was The Team of Life Production written by David Denborough and produced by KAGE.
Amanda likes trying all kinds of handicrafts and is particularly smitten with basket weaving at the moment. She has a dog, a vegetable garden and dreams of having two chickens in her Bankstown backyard.