Co-written by Tainui Tukiwaho and John Harvey under the direction of Tainui Tukiwaho (Te Rēhia Theatre) and Rachael Maza (ILBIJERRI Theatre Company), Black Ties is a romcom (with songs) in which two star-crossed lovers living in Sydney fall in love and get engaged.
The lovers, Kane and Hera (played by Mark Coles Smith and Tuakoi Ohia) have yet to meet their future-families in law, however. So they set off for Melbourne and New Zealand to meet them for the first time and break the news.
Each visit introduces us to the partner’s immediate friends and family, all of whom react differently to the news.
Being mostly Sāmoan, first generation New Zealand-born, and raised around Māori kaupapa/protocol, I found a lot of comfort and nostalgia in the dialogue. My time living here in Sydney has been relatively short but observing what was being presented on stage, I didn’t learn anything new.
Black Ties has an opportunity to educate the audience and talk about the impacts of colonialism. There were small mentions of treaty and the work Uncle Jack Charles and other elders have done – and continues to do – for the community, but most of that is lost in the offering up of both cultures for easy laughs and entertainment.
In 2020, where we are at the beginning of a new decade and seeing the direction the world is heading, the importance of indigenous cultures proclaiming, reclaiming and educating is more pivotal than ever. This just missed the mark for me.
But the play is still fabulous, chaotic and as emotional as you might expect. Special mention goes to Tainui Tukiwaho as the father of the bride-to-be. His performance is naturally witty and highlights the best parts (often missed in the mainstream) of the stereotypical Kiwi bloke. His emotional journey to win back the love-of-his life (played by Lana Garland) shows vulnerability and the softer side of masculinity.
Another mention goes to Brady Peeti, playing Shannon, the sister/cousin of the bride-to-be. Peeti’s character replicates the romcom role of the BFF, the sidekick, but her ability to own every one of her scenes (not to mention her singing) makes her a leading light.
And then there is the groom’s uncle, played by incomparable Uncle Jack Charles. The importance of his service to the people of this nation is embodied in his role and he radiates charm, wisdom and wit, while cracking the odd joke here and there. His character isn’t a man of many words, but is a force to be reckoned with.
On this occasion, there were some technical errors in sound and the use of live cameras, but they were easily overlooked thanks to effective set design (by Jacob Nash) and amazing lighting by Jane Hakaraia, which helped transport cast and audience between airports, local hangout spots, the Blue Mountains, the homes of each lover, and the hall of the chaotic wedding reception.
For me, the opening night wasn’t only about building ties across the Tasman Sea or the new ties made in the space in Sydney Town Hall. The opening night of Black Ties coincided with the people of New South Wales protesting against the government for its lack of action during the bushfire crisis. Black Ties, too, is about coming together, reclamation, education, and respectfully giving back that which was never rightfully taken.