Blackmail: A Reiver Tale (The Covid-19 Monologues Volume 2)
Elysium Theatre Company
The second volume of Covid-19 Monologues from Elysium Theatre has so far concentrated on plays set in present-day Manchester. Blackmail: A Reiver Tale differs, being a period piece set during the 14th to 17th century when marauding gangs of thugs committed murder, arson and pillage along the Scots border.
Steve Byron’s monologue is told from the viewpoint of a humble farmer, who, driven beyond endurance by swaggering reivers demanding payment for ‘protection’ and unable to gain support from his frightened neighbours or the corrupt authorities, takes the law into his own hands.
Steve Byron is fully aware the plot has served as the basis for a number of classic westerns. He does not even name the central character, referring to him only as ‘The Blackmailed’. This man with no name becomes, therefore, an archetype symbolising those decent and brave enough to stand up to oppression. Byron has no hesitation in taking sides—the villain of the piece is described in brutal animalistic terms, perfumed in ale and filth. The central character on the other hand only starts to show his mental health might be declining by compulsively reciting a nursery rhyme and the acknowledgment he has begun to share one of the villain’s characteristics: becoming pig-headed.
Director Jake Murray builds a claustrophobic sense of moving towards an inevitable showdown with restraint. The play opens with Sarah Boulter singing "Gan To The Kye" in such an eerie fashion as to suggest it might actually be a ghost story. Sole performer Micky Cochrane is a model of slow-burning outraged dignity, noble enough to sacrifice himself for his family. Cochrane reflects a grim loss of innocence, recognising there is no difference between the reivers and the law and that the common folk must look after themselves.
Blackmail: A Reiver Tale is too honest to suggest the good guys will win, but is a moving depiction of courage and dignity under pressure.
Blackmail: A Reiver Tale is available on Elysium Theatre’s YouTube channel from Friday 16 April
Reviewer: David Cunningham