IF actor Miranda Tapsell could be in two places at once, she would be in Sydney rehearsing Nakkiah Lui’s production Black is the New White and also in America with Lui.
“I was just over in LA recording my podcast Pretty For An Aboriginal with my wonderful friend Nakkiah,” Tapsell said.
“When she said she wished I was coming to Atlanta with her, I replied ‘Babe, I’m just about to start your play. You can’t have the best of both worlds’.”
The two woman have forged a fantastic friendship since Tapsell ‘fangirled’ over the playwright in the foyer at NIDA in 2011 when seeing Lui’s work This Heaven, written after she won the Balnaves Foundation Indigenous Playwright’s Award.
“Usually plays are retrospective and talk about Aboriginal people in the past,” Tapsell, a Larrakia woman, said.
“While it’s important to understand your history to understand who you are now, what I really loved about Nakkiah’s gaze was that she was showing an Aboriginal family who weren’t living out in the bush but living in an urban environment.
“She was really speaking to me as a modern, young Aboriginal woman. I sidled up to her in the foyer afterwards and it just so happened she was grateful to see another Aboriginal woman in the building because the majority of the people in the foyer weren’t.”
Known for her roles in The Sapphires, Love Child, Play School and Top End Wedding, Tapsell was with Lui when the writer had the idea for play Black is the New White, a middle-class Aboriginal Christmas rom-com stemming from her love for joyous Christmas films, especially The Family Stone.
The play premiered at Sydney Theatre Company in 2017, had a return season in 2018 where Tapsell played the role of fashion designer Rose Jones and will have its WA premiere for Black Swan State Theatre Company in September, with Tapsell the central character and Rose’s sister, Charlotte Gibson.
The comedy is somewhere between Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and Meet The Parents, with First Nations lawyer Gibson returning home for Christmas with her fiance Francis, a white, unemployed experimental composer.
“You can tell Charlotte really loves her family and is quite nervous about introducing her poor white boyfriend to this staunch Aboriginal family who are quite well off,” Tapsell said.
“It’s an interesting challenge for me because even though Rose is Charlotte’s sister, they have completely different attitudes to how they see the world; they’re like chalk and cheese.”
“As young women they’ve gone out into adult life and had different experiences and come back together as a family, trying to reconnect and understand why they each believe the things that they do.”
Tapsell, who got married last year to television comedy writer James Colley, returns to Perth after her 2010 role in Yirra Yaakin Theatre Company production Mother’s Tongue directed by Kyle Morrison, where she recalled a dry, hot summer, different to the humidity of growing up in Darwin.
“The beaches were beautiful,” she said.
“I went to Scarborough and Cottesloe and stayed with a wonderful family who I grew up with in Kakadu. I felt so welcome and looked after while in Perth.”
Tapsell said she was excited at the prospect of performing in Heath Ledger Theatre under the direction of Paige Rattray.
“Nakkiah has really put her own heart and soul into this because she loves her family and community as much as I love my own, which is why it resonates so strongly with me,” she said.
“And why I jumped at the chance to come over to Perth to do it.”
What: Black is the New White
Where: Heath Ledger Theatre
When: September 11 to 22