Challenging but well executed
by JAMES POYNER
28th May 2022
DRAMA AND UNCOMFORTABLE ideas are centre stage in the Little Green Hall for Season 2, as Warrandyte Theatre Company tackle David Harrower’s Blackbird.
The play was originally written for the 2005 Edinburgh Festival and inspired by the real-life action of US Marine Toby Studebaker (32), who met a 12-year-old British girl online and convinced her to fly to Paris, where they met and had sex.
Toby was jailed in both the UK and the US for his crime.
But, that is where the similarity ends.
Blackbird witnesses an encounter between Ray — now known as Peter (Bruce Hardie) — and Una (Erin Brass).
Some 15 years earlier, when Una was 12, they had a relationship that culminated in a room in a guesthouse on an island, where they had sex.
Following intercourse, Ray goes out for cigarettes and appears not to come back; when young Una, convinced she has been abandoned, goes looking for him, she is eventually found by a couple.
Consequently, Ray is arrested and convicted of sex with a minor.
Even writing this review now — it is always going to be a confronting and challenging topic — but the script is well written, the actors are convincing in their emotions, and the incident is discussed by the characters through the lens of time, with the mechanics of the relationship and the sexual acts described with the required emotion, but handled maturely.
Coming back to the present, set in the “break room” of the factory where Peter now works, surrounded by the garbage of workers who do not care for the space they occupy, Una confronts Peter seeking answers to a question neither herself nor the audience knows.
At first, one believes she is after payback, vengeance perhaps.
We learn that following the incident at the guesthouse, she never saw Ray again — only spotting his picture in a trade magazine she reads in a waiting room somewhere.
“I asked to speak to Peter and Ray appeared”
Shock and anger — shock by Una at the mess in the room, shock and disgust as she recounts an incident in the street where some intentionally and unthinkingly littered:
“That man who dropped the litter, it’s not the litter; it wasn’t the litter, the dirtying.
It was the man, the person doing that.
Because he hasn’t been, been schooled educated civilised enough.
And I thought, and it’s if I walked into his house and dropped litter on his carpet.
But the streets, the pavements, they’re not my house, so I don’t care about the streets.
I just thought ‘you are a beast’.
No one has ever cared for you properly and you’re too stupid, too stupid to even know that, or you wouldn’t let other people see just what a see what you are.”
Peter/Ray expresses similar shock and disgust about how his colleagues treat the space and anger as to why Una has sought him out, to create a situation where they can see just who he is.
Over 90 minutes, we listen to conversations and arguments about the reasons for Ray’s actions and how their lives were impacted following his conviction.
Peter, who denies he is a paedophile, never actually bringing up the word but arguing semantics and circumstance and explaining how he has spent the last 15 years deflecting that label and trying to move on, move away from what he describes as “the most stupid mistake of my life”.
We hear a harrowing account of Una’s life, where she was made an effigy of the family’s shame — pointed at, “slapped in the street”, and made to feel like a ghost.
What one begins to wonder is if this garbage-strewn space represents the society that has failed both of them, or is it the shit of their life laid out for all to witness.
Two people whose lives were destroyed by a three-month encounter are emotionally and mentally still dealing with the detritus over a decade later.
Shock as Una recounts 83 as the number of men she has slept with since, and shock when it feels like Una and Peter may reach an uncomfortable and confronting form of closure — once again drawn back together, we witness the entrance of Peter’s wife’s 12-years-old daughter (Kate Barley), whose entrance brings the original incident back to the front of our minds, bookending the shock.
Given it is only two actors on stage the entire time and this is a play with no interval, the acting for this performance was fantastic; both actors delivered lengthy monologues.
The pace of the performance is good, it is a quick 90 minutes and the audience is invested in the conversation — Una’s challenging and emotional account of the guesthouse runs for six pages and conveys joy, love, fear and anger — in all the right places — yet, as an audience member, the way the topics are addressed never feels inappropriate.
Kudos too to the performance of Kate Barley — who may only have one or two lines — for taking on the role of the symbolic Girl and to the Company, who managed to adeptly shield Kate from the more adult dialogue — without disrupting the flow of the piece.
Warrandyte Theatre Company is on a roll with its professional execution of challenging scripts.
If you are interested in watching good drama on the local stage, get yourself along to Blackbird.
This play does tackle uncomfortable themes and does contain harsh language and ideas so go in knowing this.
Also, note that it may be cash-only at the drinks bar for this season, and stick around for the “meet the cast” post-show.
Blackbird is being performed Fridays and Saturday at 8pm until June 11.
A 2:30pm matinee performance will take place on Sunday, June 5.
Tickets can be purchase at: trybooking.com/BYBOA
This is a play with adult themes, 16+ only.