Arts & Entertainment

REVIEW: Black Cockatoo

Aaron McGrath. Photo: Prudence Upton.

Geoffrey Atherden has a great ear for dialogue and an ability to tell a story that extends beyond the written page. Black Cockatoo recounts the little known history of an Aboriginal Australian cricket team, put together by a wily white manager, Charles Lawrence (Colin Smith), who took them on tour through England in the 1860s.

Ostensibly a sporting tour to pit the skills of the black cricketers against the legendary English teams, it was in fact, a sideshow. Lawrence asked the team to throw boomerangs, wear ridiculously inauthentic costumes, and basically “perform” for the crowds. Despite this, the cricketers themselves proved to be formidable players, earning respect and plaudits from the English that were glaringly absent in their own country. Johnny Mullagh (Aaron McGrath) in particular, was said to have talent comparable to any cricketing legends known today. 

The play is predominantly set in two time frames: the 1860s during the tour, and the present day where four young black activists have broken into a museum to protest its name.

It’s a simple set with the back wall made up of wire shelving filled with black archive boxes. Time is established by the characters and costumes. Much of the cast play dual roles and all are excellent. In addition to the above named, they are; Joseph Althouse, Luke Carroll, Chenoa Deemal, Dubs Yunupingu.

It’s an entertaining if challenging piece, peppered with humour and making a clear statement without being didactic. McGrath is particularly powerful as Mullagh, evincing empathy and admiration. Director Wesley Enoch has found the right mix of abrasiveness and sensitivity in this wonderful, timely piece of work.

Until Feb 8. The Ensemble Theatre, 78 McDougall St, Kirribilli. $38-$79+b.f. Tickets & Info: www.ensemble.com.au

Feb 18-22. Riverside Theatre, Cnr Church & Market St, Parramatta. $46-$64+b.f. Tickets & Info: www.riversideparramatta.com.au

Reviewed by Rita Bratovich.