Among themselves, they call it ‘The Black Plague’. On Sydney Theatre Company tins, you can even find the tongue-in-cheek label: 70% Black Plague. Not because the paint has any noxious properties – on the contrary – but because it was developed in 2020 during the global pandemic.

Blitz Total Black, as it goes by commercially, is in fact an astonishingly superior product: cheap, eco-friendly, highly durable, skid-tested for floors, and just the right level of shiny to backdrop some of the finest theatre productions in the country. That it now lends its dark, lambent glow to STC’s revamped The Wharf – open to audiences for the first time since 2018, and the first theatre venue in NSW to go 100 percent capacity – is thanks to Neil Mallard, STC’s Head of Scenic Art.

Neil Mallard in the scenic workshop at The Wharf. Photograph © Brett Boardman

Let me take you back (just for a little bit) to the early days of lockdown. Among many other burgeoning crises, import lines have begun to freeze up. Never totally constant, the supply of the black paint STC typically...