Romiley Little Theatre
Kings Arms, Salford
With a single, unchanging set and just two characters wearing modern clothes, Blackbird would seem an ideal choice for a fringe company. However, the dark subject matter and complex script structure means a company will have to be very confident to stage a production.
It is obvious from the opening that deception and an inability to trust the characters are major themes of the play. Una (Spencer Sarah Williams) confronts Ray Brooks (Simon Cove) at his workplace. Fifteen years earlier, when Una was twelve, they had a sexual relationship resulting in Ray being imprisoned for statutory rape and Una being judged in the court of public opinion. Now Una wants to find out why Ray backed out of a relationship to which she thought they were both committed, while Ray would rather try and pretend the affair never happened.
David Harrower’s script presents challenges for the audience and the cast. The opening of the script reflects the confused state of the characters with fragmented and overlapping dialogue. Towards the end, the speeches become longer but far more emotionally demanding. It is discomforting for the audience to consider the different societal responses to the characters. Ray went to gaol, lost his job and reputation and had to start over under a new name but in, it is implied, a more mundane job. Una, who by her age was the innocent party, endures public condemnation and years of therapy and her relationship with her parents becomes so antagonistic, she behaves like the town bike just to cause them offence.
Trying to make a judgement on the characters is not easy as they are hardly trustworthy. Ray has reinvented himself to the extent getting him to admit to his past actions is like pulling teeth; his speeches are full of evasions and half-admissions. His statement that he is not a sexual predator as he was attracted to the pre-teen Una not by her youth but by her mature attitude may be self-justification or sincere. The stunning final scene goes one way then the other. Simon Cove maintains the ambiguity playing Ray as decidedly shifty. With a twitchy, nervous approach, he seems to be constantly looking over his shoulder expecting to be caught out.
Although Una is the younger of the characters, Spencer Sarah Williams plays her as the more mature of the two. There is the sense Ray was broken by his experiences, but Una has become stronger, like tempered steel. There is a relentless determination to find out why a relationship she thought was sincere ended in disaster. Williams’s shocked reaction reflects Una’s horror in the closing scene when confronted with evidence her belief in Ray may have been misplaced.
Romiley Little Theatre rises to the challenge to produce a chilling version of Blackbird.
Reviewer: David Cunningham