Blackbird – Gaiety Theatre, Dublin

Reviewer: Rachel Rafferty

Writer: David Harrower

Director: Andrew Flynn

Sexual abuse of a minor and its life-changing effects on both perpetrator and survivor are not easy subjects to write about. Yet, David Harrower’s two-hander, Blackbird is both powerfully raw and moving. This is challenging spectatorship with its dark subject matter and lacerating language and sexual imagery, especially when the sexual references relate to a child.

Ray and Una have a shared history, one that hides a secret. Una was twelve when she first met Ray who was then forty. They had a sexual relationship which ended when Ray was reported to the police and subsequently charged. Years later, Una now grown up, has tracked Ray down, arriving unexpectedly at his place of work for a show down.

The setting is the tea-room of a large manufacturing plant – green and black sterile furniture, overflowing bins, litter-strewn floor. A depressing room, stark and filthy; it could be a spatial metaphor for the damaged lives of the two protagonists.

Razor-sharp dialogue staccatos back and forth, relating the back story and what became of each. Disturbingly, this narrative of a man sexually abusing a child somehow morphs into a kind of twisted love story. The question of what constitutes paedophilia and its enmeshment with romantic love is a major theme interrogated through the combative often violent interaction. Ray who now goes by the name Peter claims he, ‘was never one of them’. He has served time in prison but has now a new life, a managerial position, and his own family. Una is bitter and angry. She wants answers, believing she has served her own sentence.

Abuse, accusations, and violence leads to passion, with acerbic wit and black humour serving as comic relief. The raging battle culminates in Una challenging Ray about his current woman, bombarding him for more details. He ducks and dives, offering hesitant information. Now, he must leave, his family are waiting for him, but a desperate Una begs him to stay.

Superbly performed, the focus of the two actors’ high-octane confrontation is so intense it is almost cloyingly claustrophobic. Declan Conlon’s, Ray was played with just enough low-key understatement to make him believable as a man clinging to a semblance of respectability to hide his disturbing past. Conlon was the perfect foil for Maeve Fitzgerald’s heated performance. Direction by Andrew Flynn was seamless; minor climatic moments added extra layers of meaning. Interestingly, the ending abounds with ambiguities leaving the audience to ‘fill in the gaps.’

Blackbird is not for the faint-hearted; it is both shocking and unnerving. Nonetheless, this play steps away from the norm, pushing the audience out of their comfort zone by daring to raise interesting if painful questions and this reviewer found it totally engaging.

Runs until 28th May 2022

The Reviews Hub Score

Darkly powerful

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The Reviews Hub - Ireland

The Ireland team is currently under the editorship of Laura Marriott. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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