Review: ‘Black Is The New White’ is a hilarious take on Australian racial politics

Review: ‘Black Is The New White’ is a hilarious take on Australian racial politics

Miranda Tapsell and Geoff Morrell
Miranda Tapsell and Geoff Morrell. Photo: Jeff Busby
Words by Josh Fergeus


Celebrated Indigenous actor, writer and comedian Nakkiah Lui’s hit play, Black Is The New White, has come to Melbourne through a partnership between Melbourne Theatre Company and Melbourne International Arts Festival, and I’m so pleased it has. It’s a cracking comedy, brilliantly written and staged with an exceptional cast in Southbank’s glorious Sumner Theatre.

The play – written when Lui was in her mid-20s – premiered in Sydney in 2017 and, for some bizarre reason, went to Brisbane before coming to the cultural capital of Australia. The focal point of the play is the relationship between Charlotte Gibson, the “next female, Indigenous Waleed Aly”, played by the excellent Miranda Tapsell, and Francis Smith, a white, unemployed experimental composer, played for maximum laughs by Tom Stokes.

The play explores a range of themes including race, privilege, identity, power and relationships during the first meeting between the Gibson and Smith families. Couple by couple, the cast is introduced, building slowly over a handful of hours to truly farcical levels of energy. It’s a little bit Meet The Fockers, a little bit Romeo and Juliet and a little bit Fawlty Towers. Most of all, it’s just so watchable.

Charlotte brings Francis to her parent’s holiday home for family Christmas, a little nervous about Francis meeting her father, prominent former politician Ray Gibson. Francis isn’t exactly who Ray would’ve chosen for his eldest daughter, and Charlotte’s sister Rose tends to agree. Introduce Francis’ parents into the picture and the stage is set for an absolutely hilarious battle of wills, the sharing of secrets and confronting some home truths.

The cast is, without exception, marvellous. Provided with Lui’s sparkling script, they barely set a foot wrong, exhibiting engaging chemistry, wonderful timing and perceptive characterisations. Vanessa Downing is hilarious as Francis’ mother, Marie, as is Melodie Reynolds-Diarra as Charlotte’s mother, Joan. This is a cast chock-full of strong female characters and they’re embodied wonderfully by excellent female actors.

I can’t speak highly enough of Black Is The New White. Do yourself a favour and see it while you can.

Black Is The New White is on at the Southbank Theatre (The Sumner) until Wednesday November 6 as part of Melbourne International Arts Festival.

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