Written and performed by Almitra Mavalvala. Directed by Bernadette Fam.
Reviewed by Justin Clarke
Hayes Theatre, Potts Point
9 November 2022 – 12 November 2022
Photos by Clare Hawley
Blacklisted is labelled as a one-woman show about borders and belonging; a true and cheeky new story told through song, featuring a live band with sitar, cello and keys. Written and performed by Almitra Mavalvala, Blacklisted takes us musically through Mavalvala’s desire to break free from her passport, and one day find a sense of belonging in a country beyond her borders without losing her connection to home.
Taking musical inspiration from jazz and blues, as well as the South Asian orchestral music and the likes of Queen, The Eagles and Hamilton, Mavalvala embeds herself as a gifted musician and songwriter. With direction by Bernadette Fam, the pair create a comfortable space to share 85-minutes together as audience and storyteller. The crux of Blacklisted revolves around the constant rejection that Mavalvala has experienced throughout her life due to her Pakistani passport; religion, it seems, is cause for a rejection of a visa on multiple occasions.
It was clear from the beginning that Mavalvala is done with the Immigration Office of any country in which she is required to apply for a visa. From the very first mention of the exits for anyone in the audience from Immigration, through to the direct “Blame Canada” song with profanities galore, Mavalvala lets us share in her disdain for this not-so-subtle racism.
Production design by Rita Naidu and lighting design by Lucia Haddad create an intimate setting. Persian rugs and decadent Pakistani-styled curtains drape the Hayes Theatre stage. This, coupled with the warmly spiced Persian tea on offer from Shila Kitchen Bar, as well as the great addition of Sarita McHarg on the sitar, made for an authentic theatre experience. Haddad brought us warm glows to reflect the highs of Mavalvala’s story, as well as tight spots to bring us down to the finer details. Other cascades of colour in comedic moments tended to take away from the soft atmosphere that was created.
As a performer Mavalvala took a bit of warming up to get herself into the piece. However, she brought with her honesty, heart and depth, particularly when it came to singing songs such as ‘Karachi’ and ‘Ghar Ki Raah’. These moments of softer, subtle nuance were where Mavalvala shone, rather than the belts in the comedic moments such as ‘Blame Canada’ and ‘Let Me In’. It was clear that she is herself a talented musician and could have used this to her advantage throughout, rather than provide glimpses of herself on guitar and piano.
In the second act of the piece, Mavalvala gave us her fun side, with some cultural dance and opened herself up further in raunchy pieces such as ‘The Boys I Never Met’ where we explored her life as a “Pakistani Hipster”. Her constant apologies to her father, who was in the audience along with her family, helped to humanise her more than she already had. The audience left feeling as if they knew her personally and felt involved in her desire to finally get her Australian passport and tell Canada where to shove it.
Blacklisted is a richly cultural, authentically poignant theatre experience for its first look season. With a promising young talent in Almitra Mavalvala and the caring direction of Bernadette Fam, the pair create something wholly accessible for audiences to explore the idea of borders, belonging and home through a unique perspective.
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Performed by Almitra Mavalvala
Written by Almitra Mavalvala with Tim Cunniffe, Connor Barratt, Charlie Owen, Andre Sauzier, and Seb Weir
Direction and Dramaturgy by Bernadette Fam
Directing Intern: Ayah Darwich
Musical Director/Keyboard: Tim Cunniffe
Producers: Erica Lovell & Talia Meyerowitz-Katz
Production Designer: Rita Naidu
Lighting Designer: Lucia Haddad
Marketing & Publicity: Robbi James
Vocal Consultant: Peter Rutherford
Vocal Coach: Erica Lovell
Stage Manager: Erin Franks
Tabla: Aman Pal
Sitar: Sarita McHarg
Cello: Kayla Flax