Bath Theatre Royal and touring
David Harrowers' Blackbird is an uncomfortable play, confronting an illicit and abusive relationship between Ray, a forty year old man and Una, a twelve year old girl, revisted here fifteen years after the relationship ended with Ray's arrest and imprisonment. Harrower's text explores the way in which this complex relationship evolved and reveals the indelible stamp it left on both characters, moulding them so that neither has been able to leave the relationship behind; it has become them. As Una says, "You left me in love": she has never moved on.
Dawn Steele as Una and Robert Daws as Ray give remarkable performances. Steele is compelling as the 27 year old Una, now a woman but with all that naïve sexual immaturity she would have had at 12. Her steely cool in the opening scenes is chipped away until it leaves bare the damaged child she has never managed to leave behind.
Daws is a cornered Ray, his composed façade shattered by having to confront his past with Una. She forces him to face up to what he is: an abuser. He wrestles with that word: he loved her, would never have hurt her. Daws retreats from her, shrinks away physically, maintains a permanent distance, as if frightened of himself, if he were to get too close. When he talks to her, he jabs an accusatory finger at her often: she seduced him. He did not go looking for her.
The relationship that is revealed is traumatic; the black and white immorality of paedophilia given over to the many shades of grey of this relationship, in which Ray believes himself to have truly cared, and believes Una to have been consenting.
This emotional mess sits well among the scattered debris of Jonathan Fensom's set, a canteen in the factory in which Ray works. As the anger subsides and something of the love the couple once enjoyed bubbles to the surface, they revel in this debris, emptying the bin and throwing its contents around the room. This may work on a symbolic level, but felt awkward and unconvincing in the context of the naturalistic world of the play.
Harrower's text doesn't entirely sustain a credible naturalism throughout, and while the back story is beautifully crafted, it could have done more to examine the present tense of this couple's world. However, this is a challenging, engaging production, beautifully staged.
"Blackbird" runs at the Theatre Royal Bath until 24th May and then tours to Glasgow.
John Thaxter reviewed this production in Kingston
Reviewer: Allison Vale