Aridhi Anderson is a theatremaker, performer and reviewer based in Melbourne. Check out her work at aridhianderson.com.
This is not a story of reconciliation
Indigenous archaeologist Dr Jacqueline Black has unearthed a mass grave in an "inconvenient" outback location, and her non-Indigenous boss is desperate to destroy the evidence. The evidence, however - a skull that Dr Black found at the site, which happened to belong to her great-great-grandmother - has other ideas. Dr Jacqueline Black finds herself in communication with her great-great-grandmother's spirit and is charged with the task of freeing the souls of women who were brutally tortured and killed, now crying for vengeance, who will only find rest when Dr Black has completed her mission. Her mission? To kill every living descendant of the four white men who brutally massacred her people. And so the conscientious, accomplished, and somewhat socially awkward Dr Jacqueline Black is transformed into vigilante-superhero and trained killer Blackie Blackie Brown, the traditional custodian of death. This is not a story of reconciliation, we are warned from the start. This is a story of revenge, a story of justice.
Nakkiah Lui's Blackie Blackie Brown ran hugely successful, critically acclaimed seasons last year and is back at the Malthouse Theatre for a short return season until September 14. Directed by Declan Greene, starring Tahlee Fereday and Ash Flanders (and Elaine Crombie via video projections), and featuring extremely clever set design and tech, the show is a brilliant, incisive, and outrageously entertaining piece of theatre. Lui's text is complex, deep, and hard-hitting, but is flavoured with wit and absurdism, and capitalizes on popular action/drama/comedy tropes in ways that get the audience invested very quickly. From the beginning, the protagonist "Blackie" is easy to love and empathize with, and her mission, horrific as it might sound, is able to gain approval. The progression of events in the show is meticulously organized: it starts in a high contrast world, where there are clear good guys and bad guys, and as Blackie eliminates one arrogant, racist prick after another, the audience can't help but cheer her on. However, as she moves down her list of 400 targets, she discovers that she's on a slippery slope. Not only are some of her targets potentially completely innocent, but some are also victims of the same violent and traumatic history that has put her in this position to begin with.
On the face of it, this show is all blood, gore, and gratuitous violence, but the themes and intent in the story of this unlikely executioner's adventures are as nuanced and carefully considered as it gets. This show channels the deep trauma that Indigenous communities have inherited from violent colonization, the humiliation of ongoing exclusion and invisibility, and the rage that rightly results from it all: but it's important to note that none of the unfolding action is rash. Blackie Blackie Brown is a responsibly reckless vigilante, and despite constantly being between a rock and a hard place, she never loses touch with her moral compass, her sense of what's right, even when it clashes with what is necessary. Her explosive reaction to the injustice suffered by her people for far too long reveals not only the damage caused by the buried trauma but also the core of it. Ultimately, the show draws from a beautiful metaphor of time cycles as understood in Indigenous cultures, to offer hope for how cycles of violence and retribution might make way for new solutions.
Blackie Blackie Brown is a fast-paced show which packs in a lot, both in terms of content and creativity. It's deliciously complex, intelligently structured and supremely engaging. If you enjoy quality entertainment with depth and substance, you can't go wrong booking into this show.