Whatever your reaction to Blackbird is at first, chances are it’s going to be a strong one. David Harrower’s tale – the ultimate in a past-comes-back-to-haunt-you story – could easily be described as disturbing or even polarising. At the same time, it would be difficult to argue that Blackbird expressly sets out to do either of these things. While there are plenty of reasons to flinch, what this work is really looking for is an audience willing to contemplate the spaces between right and wrong.
Blackbird’s two characters appear to us in a state of nervous conflict. Una turns up at Ray’s work unannounced, and Ray's immediate reaction is one of shock and embarrassment. He hustles her into the break room, and what unfolds between the two, while not especially comfortable, is gripping to say the least.
Noel Hodda plays Ray in a role that many actors would probably shy away from. In Ray, Hodda must draw together moments of confrontation, frustration and pure exhaustion. He does this with complete commitment, creating a character that is understandable, and at times even sympathetic, despite the fact many would find it difficult to condone his actions.
Nell Shipley is mesmerising as Una, shifting from defiant to frantic to vulnerable without allowing her character to become disjointed. Una’s monologue forms the centrepiece of the play, and through it Shipley produces images that are profoundly moving and incredibly real.
David Atfield praises his actors’ “extraordinary courage” and commitment to the work – words that don’t overstate Hodda and Shipley’s achievements. Both are meticulous in creating the chaos of Una and Ray’s relationship, understanding that a slip in timing or lapse in concentration could put the play in jeopardy. Together, Atfield and his actors have generated enough trust between them to peel back the layers of this complex story. Sensing this trust, the audience is much more likely to allow themselves to be confronted.
Liberty Kerr’s sound design is one more element that encourages us to immerse ourselves in Ray and Una’s world, making their memories all the more tangible and intimate. All the elements of the production combine to create something that echoes long after the lights have come up.
Each view of Blackbird will change as the play progresses, and probably alter again in the days and weeks after it ends. For some it may verge on voyeuristic, while others may see flashes of beauty and fragility in the story of Una and Ray. Despite its many challenges, Hodda, Shipley, Atfield and his team have more than done justice to David Harrower’s tale of black and white, and all the wonderful shades of grey in between.
by David Harrower
Director David Atfield
Venue: The Street Theatre, Childers St Canberra City West
Dates: Friday 19 June - Saturday 4 July AT 8pm
Tickets: Fri/Sat $29 Concession $25 Student $21
Tues $25 Concession $21 Student $15
Wed/Thurs nights $25 Concession $29 Student $23
Bookings: 02 6247 1223 or www.thestreet.org.au