When the publicity for a show beginning with “I’m not a racist, but…”, I get ready to say “I’m not a critic, but…”.
Unaustralia is set on Sydney’s Cronulla beach and explores a fictional story leading up to the race riots of 2005. It’s a bit like Channel 10s The Shire, but with less botox and much better.
The night begins with sight of Ken Roach’s design. It’s one of the best I’ve seen in the Courthouse, with floating surfboards, sand and a beach wall that instantly transport us to seaside Sydney and surprises with its projections.
Here blonde Aussie Simone, Lebanese Ali and Aboriginal Mannie love their daily surf where they trade stories about losing their virginity and things that matter. Meanwhile Ali’s brother, cousin and sister come from Punchbowl on weekends and end up fighting with the bikini/Speedo clad Shire locals, and a politician, with a heart of slime, and a SBS journo, mostly interested in own breasts, take advantage of the racial tension.
With many storylines, Reg Cribb’s script wants to cover so much ground that it’s hard to find the character and story that draws us through its complexity. The strongest and most engaging story is the Simone–Mannie–Nadia (Ali’s sister) romantic triangle, and the subplots about the pollie and his cronies could go without losing any emotional impact. Sometimes, stuff you love has to be cut to make a story better.
As expected, there’s too much preaching to the converted (yes, racism is bad), but the core characters connect because they are more than their stereotype. However, this depth isn’t equally applied to the mindless Aussie chicks and lifeguards, flag-wearing thugs and cartoony pollie.
This kind of work is created to change attitudes and show a truth that is too often ignored in our media, but it will only work everyone on the stage comes from a broad and honest base. Racist violence and intolerance isn’t restricted to the stupid. As long as the audience think “well, that’s not me”, the message is lost.
The heart of Unaustralia comes from its large cast, who are passionate about its message and its truth. Opening night nerves brought some inconsistency and scrappy scene changes broke the tension, but all this will tighten up as the run continues and its belief that we can create a better place to live will glow.