Cruel deadly play has plenty of koort

3 April 2023

Yirra Yaakin Theatre Company’s much-loved rom-com is heading to Kalgoorlie, Albany and Bunbury. Ahead of the tour we’re re-sharing Barbara Hostalek’s review of its debut season.

Dating Black, Yirra Yaakin Theatre Company
Subiaco Arts Centre, 18 November 2021

Back in 2019, Yirra Yaakin Theatre Company Artistic Director Eva Grace Mullaley knew she’d found a firecracker when she heard a 10-minute reading of a new script by Wajarri/Noongar playwright Narelle Thorne.

Two years of creative development later (with dramaturge Polly Low), Yirra Yaakin has premiered Thorne’s Dating Black at Subiaco Arts Centre. It’s a play with plenty of koort (heart), that throws beams of happiness on emotionally tumultuous times for all to enjoy, no matter who we are, where we come from, how old we are or how we love.

Multi-talented director Bruce Denny shares his extensive experience as writer, actor, and poet, drawing out the skills of the actors to bring their characters to life. Fuelled by the positive energy bouncing between the cast, the opening night audience was clapping at the end of every scene.

A scene from Dating Black: First Nations woman Rayma Morrison is dressed in a crimson outfit, with a traditional fur over her shoulders. She is gesturing at the audience and looks serious.
As Auntie Maisie, Rayma Morrison delivers a performance of enormous warmth and humour. Photo: Dana Weeks

As Auntie Maisie, Rayma Morrison delivers a performance of enormous warmth and humour, inviting the audience into the family through the strength of her matriarchy. The plot revolves around her fast-running, wardrobe-changing, romance-seeking niece Djinda (Bobbi Henry) and her elder brother and culture-man Marley (Maitland Schnaars) who does not want to see his sister hurt by men.

The synergy between the siblings is playful and loud, exploring the implications of putting your nose where it isn’t welcome.

Consistent and strong, Henry’s energy on stage is mesmerising. It was a delight, too, to see Schnaars play a comic role full of light, love and possibilities as opposed to the highly intense and serious works he has delivered recently, in works such as Hecate (Yirra Yaakin, 2020), York (Black Swan State Theatre Co. 2021) and Conversations with the Dead (Yirra Yaakin 2017). Don’t get me wrong, these works are essential and inspiring. I am aware, however, of the toll that these traumatic roles can take on theatre makers who deliver them night after night.

Djinda is supported in her pursuit of dating by her wadjela (white person) bestie Hope (Tegan Mulvany), who brings to life window shopping for love.

But Aliwah! (Look out!) Charismatic and cool love-interest Justin is played by creative extraordinaire Derek Nannup. It has been too long since his presence has been felt on stage! His performance is captivating, showing incredible articulation and control whether in the spotlight or sitting at a bar.

As we join the characters on their quest for love, we share recognisable moments: heartbroken at home, alone with the power of a song; teasing banter between friends who share secrets not shared with family; and the struggle to play it cool when your heart is hot.

A scene from Dating Black: Two women sit at a bar table, enjoying a glass of wine. A man dressed in a casual suit stands nearby, holding a beer and looking pensive.
Matthew Raven’s set and costume designs are sleek and subtle, supported by Peter Young’s lighting design. Pictured are Tegan Mulvany (Hope), Bobbi Henry (Djinda) and Derek Nannup (Justin). Photo: Dana Weeks

Designed by Matthew Raven, the set and costumes are sleek and subtle, allowing attention to focus on the actors’ many facial gestures and physical offers. As an Aboriginal person I am very aware of how significant these subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle communications are for myself, my family and my community, and seeing this reflected back on the stage brought me a lot of joy.

Lighting design by Peter Young effectively supports shifts in emotional intensity and sound design by Ella Portwine infuses familiar love songs from the 60s to current to soothe and comfort as we follow the ups and downs of the romance journey.

Blackfullas sharing blackfulla stories, for blackfullas, koordahs (friends) and moort (family) inclusive of wadjelas – because love can be colour-blind.

I didn’t swipe right and didn’t swipe left – I stayed in the cleverly crafted world of the older singles dating scene, negotiated through a magnitude of mobile apps, clubs, spaces and places.

Narelle Thorne is a natural writer of comedy, and this play has big hearts with lots of love; a joy to watch and listen. Tell your moort, tell your koordahs to get tickets because you don’t want to miss out on something as cruel deadly (seriously good) as Dating Black.

I’ve already seen it twice, unna (right)!

Dating Black will play Goldfields Arts Centre, 15 April, Albany Entertainment Centre, 20 April and Bunbury Regional Entertainment Centre, 27 April 2023.

This review was first published on Seesaw Mag, 22 November 2021.

Pictured top are Bobbi Henry as Djinda and Derek Nannup as Justin. Photo: Dana Weeks

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Author —
Barbara Hostalek

Barbara Hostalek is an independent First Nations playwright proud to be living with Noongar Boodjar. She began writing plays at Yirra Yaakin Theatre Company’s Writers group in 2015. Her work has been produced by Yirra Yaakin Theatre Company (Cracked), Black Swan Theatre Company (Unsung Heroes monologue series: Own Way) and Mudskipper Productions (Banned). Park fun play? Hands down, the sandpit.

Past Articles

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  • Tattooing a feminist perspective

    Dureshawar Khan’s deep dive into the complex and colourful history of tattooing is insightful, inclusive and intimate, writes Barbara Hostalek.

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