“AUDIENCES have been going wild; people are hungry for Nakkiah,” says Paige Rattray, director of the Sydney Theatre Company’s newest comedy, “How to Rule the World”.
That’s Nakkiah Lui, the hottest property in the Sydney theatre scene, a scriptwriter and actor for ABC TV’S sketch series “Black Comedy”, and an outspoken social commentator. She’s a sell-out playwright who’s less than flattered to be tagged the “new David Williamson”.
Rattray also directed Lui’s “Black Is the New White”, a sort of reverse Aboriginal version of “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner”, seen in Canberra last year. Although given the “emerging” designation of associate director at the STC, she’s already directed the hits “Power Plays” and “Boys will be Boys” for the company.
“How to Rule the World” will be at The Playhouse in April and as designer Marg Horwell has largely set it behind the scenes in Parliament House, it can be expected to pack out.
“It’s so exciting to bring it to Canberra,” Rattray says.
One of the cast members, Rhys Muldoon, who plays the Prime Minister in Lui’s play, has genuine street cred. In real life he’s a personal friend of former PM Kevin Rudd (he once brought him to the Canberra Theatre) and as Rattray says: “Rhys is incredible in the little gestures”.
It’s no secret what “How to Rule the World” is about and the publicists have been having a field day with presenting it as a savage twist on an old racist joke – “An Aboriginal, an Asian and an Islander walk into a bar…”
Rattray is reluctant to tell us too much, but tells us this much… Aboriginal journalist Vic (played by Lui), Tongan political adviser Chris (Anthony Taufa) and Korean pro-bono immigration lawyer Zaza (Michelle Lim Davidson) are all political insiders making their way to the top.
After a heavy night drinking after the Prime Minister announces a racist immigration bill and as a half-Senate election looms, they hatch a plan to take over the world.
Realising that none of them is the ideal candidate and they need a “strong white dude” to run in their place, they audition for one and come up with Lewis Lewis (Hamish Michael), who has no family, no friends, no real job, no history and is not interested in anything except himself – in other words, the perfect political candidate.
Now, Rattray says: “All they need to do is to align him with their moral codes.” Here’s where Lui’s corrosive wit comes in and she takes a swipe at all our illusions – on the left and right – about Australia as the home of multiculturalism and the fair go.
“Nakkiah is masterful in her interrogation of our current political landscape and she does it with such generosity,” Rattray says.
Lui’s formidable personality could have been a problem for a director but Rattray says: “We’re good friends and that helps, because we can be very honest with each other.”
One hilarious moment in rehearsal saw Rattray telling the actors: “You need to trust the writing” and Lui responding: “What do you mean? I wrote the words and I don’t trust the writing.”
As well, Lui was feeling that she’d lost hope about Australian politics, but then, Rattray reports: “She found that it is creating change that gives us hope.
“It’s been particularly hard work for Nakkiah this time, because she’s been on the floor rehearsing all day and having to edit at night.
“This play is so contemporary that we are constantly having to change things.”
Lui is known for her laugh-a-minute dialogue, and that’s not all good.
“So much happens, there are so many laughs and it’s constantly undercutting anything that’s serious,” Rattray says.
“There are so many laughs in this play, it seeps into people’s skins.”
“How to Rule the World”, The Playhouse, April 3-6. Book at canberratheatrecentre.com.au