The Hate Race

Malthouse Theatre Zahra Newman and Kuda Mapeza in The Hate Race photo by Tiffany GarvieMaxine Beneba Clarke is an author and poet who grew up in Sydney in the 1980s and 90s. Her mother was an actor and her dad was a mathematician. She wanted a Cabbage Patch doll more than anything, the BMX track was her favourite place, and her mum made the Peter (g’day) Russell (g’day) Clarke tuna mornay with tinned fish and corn. She adapted her 2016 book The Hate Race for Malthouse Theatre’s premiere production.

This memoir was nominated for many prizes and is one of over 14 books she has written or contributed to. For all the moments of nostalgia and connection – it’s hard not to hum along to The Wiggles or John Farnham – this is a story about what it’s like to begin to understand that you are hated.

Hate is a very strong word and is used because of its power. Clarke’s parents are from Ghana and Jamaica and, as she was told in primary school, she knew “you’re brown”.

Written from an adult understanding of race, does nothing to soften the impact of microaggressions directed at a child. In her discussions of the book, Clarke says the memoir began when she was walking her own child along the street and was racially abused.

Much of the communal memory of this work is hearing, or often imagining, words or situations that were perceived as harmless or something to ignore, like a teacher telling Maxine to call a classmate “whitey”.

The Hate Race is as much about empathising with an African diaspora experience as it is about understanding how racist comments and attitudes that can be seem as easy to dismiss have cumulative power that cannot be soothed with a rainbow Paddle Pop and unconditional family love. It’s as much about being on the side lines as being in the centre.

Zahra Newman is Maxine and all the other people in Maxine’s life, from her father who wants her to explain the history of slavery in Jamaica to her classmates to those classmates. Newman is one of our most consistent actors who gently and powerfully finds her own story alongside Clarke’s story and those of everyone involved in its making.

Newman is joined on stage by musician Kuda Mapeza who sings and plays like a chorus. In a story that is often gloriously funny, the support and love of another person on the stage creates safety and strength.

Co-directors Tariro Mavondo and Courtney Stewart support all the stories being told and let them be told in ways that let every member of the audience find where we sit in this story.

The design by Zoe Rouse captures the distressed denim of the 90s and the set looks like a topographic map in brown, orange and yellow that shows connections and links that can be easy to see from a distance and possibly impossible to see up close.

We make theatre to share stories. I hope we make theatre to make connection and to help us understand stories that we didn’t know we were a part of.

The Hate Race
Beckett Theatre – Malthouse Theatre, 113 Sturt Street, Southbank
Performance: Wednesday 28 February 2024
Season continues to 17 March 2024
Information and Bookings:

Image: Zahra Newman and Kuda Mapeza in The Hate Race – photo by Tiffany Garvie

Review: Anne-Marie Peard