Review: Blackbird

by Jane

Misaligned expectations?  Perhaps.  After True West blew me away last year, so I was telling everyone with ears they must go and see it at the Fringe, and then running back to see it myself, Blackbird was always on my list of shows I was most excited to see this year.  It was disappointing.  I believe this team is better than this production shows, and therein lies the rub: this production doesn’t show it.

Looking at other reviews now, I don’t even understand what Peter Burdon from The Advertiser is saying in his review: miscast, yet must-see?  A very bizarre read.

In other news, I saw Ruby Bruise again, brought more people to share her with, and loved it even more.   Can’t get it out of my head.  If you want to treat yourself, go and see it.

Both of these play until Saturday.

This review originally appeared on www.australianstage.com.au

David Harrower’s Blackbird is a script intended to be inflammatory, confusing, filled with heightened and varying emotions on behalf of the characters and audience members. Fifteen years after forty-year-old Ray abandons twelve-year-old Una in a boarding house, she returns into his life to find out: was it a malicious act of pedophilia, or was it more, was there a real connection?

Playing around within this, within the questions of can a grown man truly have feelings for a girl, regardless of questions about legality and morality, the play is intended to make the audience question themselves, to question their reaction to being told this was a true relationship.

It is a curious thing, being able to hear these beats in the script as written, but not being able to see them as performed in this production directed by David Mealor. As Terrence Crawfordplays Ray as the nervous, shuffling, pedophilic character with constantly halting language from the outset, the production does not have an opportunity to travel anywhere.

In UnaKsenja Logos takes more opportunities to show variance in character: in moments a tough exterior briefly gives way to show a traumatized young woman, but a true connection between Una and Ray is never felt. In Crawford’sinterpretation, Ray has nowhere to grow and change over the course of the production, and so emotion of the piece is essentially flat. This is not helped by Mealor’s direction that has monologues, moments of extreme emotion in the text, delivered to the audience.

The simple lunchroom designed by Mary Moore, bound in realism from the ugly institutional colours and cheap furniture down to the gratifying stick and squelch made of shoes in contact with spilled sugary drinks on the floor, is bordered by an external space of strewn garbage bags and rubbish.

For the first half of the play, it appears the fourth wall exists between the boundary of the stage proper and this border, until Logos steps out of the main space for her monologue. After this wall is broken, it is never mended, as the characters move freely between the lunchroom and the garbage, creating a confused stage.

Sound design by Andrew Howard and composition by Quentin Grant is overwrought, as the entry and exit of synthesized notes are jolting, detracting from the story and highlighting a theatricality which in this play perhaps shouldn’t be seen. Choices in sound are also confusing: twice the characters reference the clock striking midnight, as a clock strikes three times.

Ultimately, it is not that Blackbird is a particularly bad production; it’s just that it is particularly monotonous. To buy into the conceit that Harrower tries to set up the play needs to show the audience the raw connection of characters. Unfortunately, this ineffectual production misses the mark.

Flying Penguin Productions present Blackbird by David Harrower.  Directed by David Mealor,  set and costume design by Mary Moore, lighting design by Mark Pennington, sound design by Andrew Howard, composition by Quentin Grant.  With Terence Crawford, Ksenja Logos and Scarlett Groom-Ransom

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