David Harrower’s controversial, award-winning 2005 play about historical sexual abuse has been revived by Southport-based company, Roots Theatre – and enabled by hundreds of supporters through crowdfunding – and it still packs a punch; if anything, the passage of time has increased its potency.
Fifteen years after their relationship, 20-something Una appears at Ray’s place of work, tracking him down to challenge him about their relationship and why he abandoned her: the shock is that Una was 12 at the time & and Ray 40.
The real-time, one act drama is fraught with tension, dynamism & repressed fury as the damaged characters reminisce and reveal their pain – not simply of abuse but of abandonment, betrayal and jealousy, which caused The New York Times to say when the play was first performed, ‘…for “Blackbird” to work, you have to accept it as a love story — a tragic, horrible love story that destroys lives, but a love story all the same.’ Their relationship appears to have been tender & Ray takes great care to distance himself from child abusers (“I was never one of them”) but the sudden ambiguous appearance of a third party towards the end of the play throws doubt on Ray’s credibility and motives: he has also moved on with his life, taken a new identity, a new family, a new job – Una however seems frozen in time. As the director Sasha Georgette stated at the subsequent Q&A, “For victims of sexual abuse, there is no closure.” The stripped back nature of the piece (a simple, grubby office set, one man, one woman) also throws the focus onto the rawness of the emotional content – which is almost unbearably stark.
As a last minute replacement for actor/director Nick Bagnall, Duncan Cross does a truly masterful job as Ray, hardly stymied behind a script and bestriding the tiny RC stage – alternately pitiable and menacing, loving yet dishonourable. Bex Culshaw’s Una is still girly – innocent at times, rebellious at others, emotionally stunted by her ordeal and never able to truly grow up to be well-balanced adult woman.
The packed house was clearly rapt (one man in the front row said he was almost tempted to shout abuse at Ray) and my only criticism was that, even with a script in hand, the pace needs picking up to avoid some occasionally stilted moments.
This is a play that still demands to be seen; it still throws up uncomfortable questions and forces the audience to examine where they stand in relation to some difficult and painful issues.
Due to the script in hand scenario for this evening’s performance North West End UK feel that to give a star rating for this production would be unfair and would be keen to return to see the production when all cast are fit and well. We wish the cast members unable to perform tonight a speedy recovery.
Blackbird is running at The Royal Court Studio until July 16th; tickets can be purchased here: https://liverpoolsroyalcourt.com/whats-on/blackbird/
Reviewer: Tracy Ryan
Reviewed: 13th July 2022