Directed by Shane Anthony
Bali Padda and Griffin Independent
10 Nimrod Street, Kings Cross
Season: 30 November – 17 December
When you strip back all socially-imposed value, the colour of your skin shouldn't mean much more than a bit of difference in pigment. And yet it is a physical feature that is obscenely politicised. It has been used throughout history as a means of categorising and demonising people groups, subjecting people to systematic discrimination and bias. Most people recognise that it's abhorrent, and yet these same attitudes endure in Australia through our immigration law, international relations and casual racism day to day. In light of this, hearing that Indian-Australian actor and theatre maker Nicholas Brown is tackling some of these issues through comedy in the new production at Griffin Theatre, I was very keen to hear what he had to say. Whilst highly entertaining and a bit quirky, the play suffered from weaknesses in storyline that did heed a message in relation to race and colour, however had the potential to be communicated with much more strength and precision.
We meet John Green, hailing from Greystanes, an aspiring actor. He looks a little different to his mum and sister, his mum assuring him it is because of his Portuguese-English-Italian heritage. We never meet his dad. His girlfriend Janelle is a Castle Hill local, rapt to be taking over her father's booming barbecue shop and willing John to marry her and take over running the shop by her side. They are an unlikely couple, and whilst thoroughly amusing, here the seed of unbelievability is sown. Continually the plot is marred by relationships and premises that I just couldn't quite suspend my disbelief enough in order to swallow. In saying this, Bishanyia Vincent gives a wonderful performance with a flair for comedic timing that sees laughter ripple through the audience. Too bad the writing couldn't tie the character into the story more cohesively. More realistic is the relationship between Sandy, an Indigenous activist and business woman, and John. It is in their exchanges that the most poignant comments about race emerge, even if they remain relatively simplistic. Katie Beckett approaches the role with grace, honesty and good humour, making her feel like the most authentic depiction of life on stage. Shane Anthony's direction of Beckett finely balances the more outlandish comedy that also features, proving to be an enjoyable combination for audiences.
We are treated to polychromatic performances by the entire cast. Vivienne Garrett is John's Olivia Newton-John obsessed Mother, Sam McCool plays both a ludicrous Bollywood director and Sandy's Maori father and Julie Goss gives an energised performance as John's sister and shows wonderful flexibility. Nicholas Brown carries the play through as the protagonist doing a good job considering the inconsistencies in the script.
Lighten Up is a new Australian work by Brown and McCool. It is still new, and needs further development. Shane Anthony brings together a diverse cast that revels in the tongue in cheek humour and lighthearted word play. The audience is delighted by the delicious characterisations and commitment to the cause. The show would be stronger if the audience wasn't expected to make quite so many leaps and jumps with the plot's cohesion and believability. But it's a new independent work. It entertains and it has a message to share. With more development, it could become a show that is not only hilarious, but also makes pointed and nuanced comments on Australian attitudes towards race - with a mind to shaping views and creating a society that truly celebrates its multiculturalism.