by Narelle Thorne
Yirra Yaakin Theatre Company
Directed by Bruce Denny
Choreographer Nadia Martich
Set and Costume designer Matthew Raven
Lighting designer Peter Young
Sound designer Ella Portwine
Dramaturg Polly Low
Subiaco Arts Centre November 18 - 27, 2021
|Bobbi Henry, Tegan Mulvany and Derek Nannup|
Love is all around in Yirra Yaakin’s brand spanking new humdinger of a rom-com – and as always with love, things are never black and white.
Dating Black, the debut play by Narelle Thorne, is a laugh-a-minute romp through the minefield of dating and romance, but it’s a lot more than that.
It achieves a remarkable double – it’s as light as air, the story of five really nice people who all get what they want and need without serious conflict or major setbacks, but I think you can make a case that it’s also one of the more significant new plays on the Perth stage in recent times. I’ll get back to that.
The five nice people are BFFs Djinda (Bobbi Henry) and Hope (Tegan Mulvany), Djinda’s brother, Marley (Maitland Schnaars) her auntie Maisie (Rayma Morrison) and a new bloke in town, Justin (Derek Nannup).
Djinda’s moved back in with family after her marriage ended badly, and like Hope, who is also single, is absolutely available. Her aunt Maisie is no obstacle to their romantic ambitions, but the same can’t be said of Marley, whose protective nature is suffocating.
The girls are out on the town (they’ve told Maisie they’re going to “church” but they mean the local nightclub of that name, not a building with a pulpit in it), and run into Justin, who’s visiting on business.
Djinda and Justin get on like a house doused in petrol and set alight, which is fine by Hope and Maisy – not so much with Justin though. Ah, but the course of true love…
Thorne writes with sweet insight and a fetching, light feel for comedy, and she and first-time director Bruce Denny make Dating Back’s 75 minutes a rib-tickling pleasure.
And it’s brought to life by a fabulous bit of casting; Bobbi Henry is a knockout as Djinda, mercurial and sexy as all get-out, and Tegan Mulvany matches her fire and sparkle; Derek Nannup is a perfect foil for Henry, debonair and sincere, he does the dark horse to a T.
Let’s give it up for Rayma Morrison; a born comedian, she’s as wise as she is wisecracking, impish, the funny bone of the show – we should all have an auntie like her.
And a brother like Maitland Schnaars; this excellent, statuesque actor is clearly enjoying working a comedy, and his dignity shines through even when he’s the butt of many of Dating Black’s jokes. (By the way, Schnaar’s daughter Cezera is starring in the brilliant Little Women at the Blue Room – check out your diary, you’ve only got a week to catch them both!)
So why is Dating Black so important? It’s the most natural yet development of a significant change in Aboriginal, and especially Noongar, theatre so powerfully led by Yirra Yaakin under its artistic directors Kyle Morrison and now Eva Grace Mullaley.
In it, Indigenous people, their lives, their familial and community cultures, are not represented as needing explanation let alone justification.
In Dating Black there is no signposting or drum-beating at all (and I’m not here suggesting that they haven’t been legitimate, or necessary, given the history of colonialism, neglect and oppression in this country). The people of this play are leading lives on their own terms, and our common humanity goes without saying.
Just as important, and a source of great inspiration, is the continued rise of Noongar language. Yirra Yaakin, with their all-Noongar Hecate and Fists of Fury in the last two Perth Festivals, are leading this process, as are performers like Gina Williams and Guy Ghouse, with their lullabies, songs, and now even an operetta, in language.
The increasingly complex and insightful Welcomes to Country are another platform for knowledge and appreciation of the language.
Dating Black is in English, sprinkled with Noongar words and phrases that are becoming better known and added to our general vocabulary.
This is a wonderful thing, because Noongar is a beautiful and expressive language. Its return as a widely-known and naturally adopted living language, the de facto second language of West Australians if you will, is something we should all hope for and look forward to.