BWW REVIEW: Grounded In A Tragic Reality, A New Confronting Production Of BLACKROCK Proves Society Has Not Progressed That Far In 28 Years
Saturday 11th March 2017, 7:30pm, Reginald Theatre, Seymour Centre, Chippendale
Nick Enright's play BLACKROCK, is given a contemporary treatment with a terrifying realism and shocking reminder that society hasn't changed. This is a thought provoking presentation that challenges the audience to consider the values being instilled in new generations, the double standards applied to boys and girls, the differences in attitudes towards girls and boys, and the hurt people can inflict on each other.
Enright first presented the story, based on the 1989 brutal murder on Stockton Beach, in northern NSW, of schoolgirl Leigh Leigh, as 45 minute play, A PROPERTY OF THE CLAN, in 1992. With a commission from Sydney Theatre Company, Enright expanded the work to a full length, 90 minute production with more characters, first performed in 1995 before going on to be adapted for film in 1997. Whilst it is based in truth, BLACKROCK focuses on the rest of the community, particularly the victim's peers, rather than the victim, the unseen fictional 15 year old Tracy Warner. Enright has created a community that allows analysis of different socio economic groups as well as student and adult responses to the tragic events.
Director Kim Hardwick has opted to bring the work in the present, which includes contemporary references and a few nods to modern technology but also shows how little adolescence has changed over the decades. There is still a drinking and drug taking culture. There is still a judgment of girls and women based on their behaviour and appearance, thinking girls who dress provocatively are "asking for it", and a strong element of "slut shaming". There is still the propensity for the middle class and upper classes to protect their sons regardless of the heinous nature of their behaviour, worrying about their future when they impose a different standard on their daughters. There is a continuing cycle of poverty with misguided selection of role models, thinking that the relative that has achieved notoriety and power in jail or the washed out deadbeat with no prospects are the people to aspire to. Enright wrote BLACKROCK well before camera phones and social media and Hardwick has not tried to incorporate this into the work but the fact that even without this, the image presented is grippingly real and horrifyingly possible.
Set and costume designer Isabel Hudson has created a great space for Hardwick's vision to play out. A large black rock with roadway down to the sandy beach forms a backdrop and also adds vertical variety. An abandoned shopping trolley filled with rubbish and random milk crates litter the space indicating that the beach is not an idyllic hideaway but a hangout for the surfers and kids of the community. Martin Kinnane's lighting includes a wall of lightbulbs representing the high powered lamps seen illuminating beachside carparks and also the bold lighting of the nightclub that the mothers find themselves in. His lighting also helps differentiate the passage of time, implied locations and times. Hudson's costuming is simple given the contemporary setting but she still manages a nuanced differentiation to help define the characters from the middle class Rachel's neater attire with designer ripped denim to the poorer Cherie's retro shorts and t-shirt, and older girl Tiffany's grungier punk ensemble.
Hardwick has created a confronting, physical and emotion filled production with the aid of Scott Witt's fight choreography and an amazing cast that both look like the every day teen and capture the essence of youth today. Roles are generally played 'straight' but the performers understand the comic interactions that teenage boys have with each other that leads to overplayed posturing and puffing in keeping with their characters. The only parts that are presented as caricatures are the policemen, presented by the ensemble as they double roles.
As Tracey's best friend Cherie, Lucy Heffernan captures the isolated good girl's palpable grief and also demonstrates an incredible strength and fortitude as she deflects the boy's advances at the beach party and stands up for the memory of her friend against her peers and her mother. As Rachel, Tessa James exposes the her parent's middle class hypocrisy as she hold stronger morals than they do whilst exposing the learning curve that comes with the discovery of the betrayal that her boyfriend could quite easily have participated in the heinous crime against the young innocent Tracey. As the 21 year old Tiffany, Kate Vozella also conveys the young woman's awakening to the fact that she is worth more than the way 22 Ricko treats her while also providing an example of the perpetuation of the society's propensity to tell girls that they have to dress provocatively and put out to be liked.
As Cherie's cousin Jared, Gautier Pavlovic-Hobba captures the uncertainty of youth as he wants to fit in and help his deadbeat friend whilst still knowing that he has been getting his life on track. He captures the teenage boy's loyalty mixed with confusion as to how to deal with the situation given the morals he's been taught. He is pressured by old friend Ricko, presented with a dangerous gravitas by Sam Delich who represents the bad role models that youth pick up along with the horrible belief that guys can take what they want, justified by a girls' attire or behaviour which leads to an anger at Tracey's attempt to defend herself. He presents that lure of rebellion that causes younger kids to look up to someone who is essentially a dropout and deadbeat, something that is shown in popular culture for decades, with a scary honesty, reinforced by Jared, Davo and Scott's delight at his return to town. Alex Packard's portrayal of the middle class Toby, Rachel's brother, also reinforces the arrogance and lack of remorse bought about by a sense of entitlement perpetuated by society that defends men and blames women for 'asking' to be assaulted by the way they dress and act. Packard presents Toby as snotty, snobby and elitist and therefore competitive with the boys that he sees as inferior whilst still wanting to be included and therefore participating in the rape of the young girl.
Of the adults, Zoe Carides presents an emotion filled but balanced performance as Jared's mother Diane. She makes it clear that single mother Diane is doing everything she can to raise her son to the best he can be and the disappointment and disgust at learning that he is no better than the boys charged with rape and murder is palpable. She captures the essence of a woman trying to hold it together in a society that has told her that she's not allowed to show vulnerability in front of men, and therefore her son. She also highlights the difference in reaction that a the different mothers have to the revelations that their sons can be so evil despite their efforts to raise them right.
As Toby and Rachel's parents, Danielle King and Noel Hodda capture Marian and Stewart's hypocritical values that want to limit Rachel's behaviour whilst defending Toby's actions. Whilst Stewart's sole goal is to protect Toby, concerned that this event could "destroy him at the start of his life", King does show an element of disgust at Toby's revelations but Marian still does not stand up to her husband or her son to reinforce that the behaviour and attitude is unacceptable. King also doubles as Cherie's mother and whilst presenting as a forceful, abrupt woman who is also Diane's best friend and sister, she eventually conveys a compassion and sympathy towards Cherie who continues to be unable to deal with the grief and anger.
This modernisation of BLACKROCK is a well rendered tight performance filled with honesty and truth ensuring that the message that society still has a long way to go in protecting its youth, it still has a long way to go in changing attitudes and making a safe world for girls and women where they can be themselves without being labelled or judged and blamed for the bad behaviour of men. This is an important reminder to all adults involved in shaping the next generation, whether they are parents, educators or simply part of society. It is also an important reminder to all youth of the implications bad judgement can have on life.
Reginald Theatre, Seymour Centre.
Photos: Danielle Lyonne