Review: BLACKBIRD at Holden Street Theatres

A harrowing look at paedophilia.

By: Apr. 11, 2024
Review: BLACKBIRD at Holden Street Theatres
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Reviewed by Ewart Shaw, 10th April 2024.

Sex with minors is a crime, but so widespread that Blackbird, by David Harrower, one of the most performed plays of this century, has been translated into many languages. A headline, a news report, will draw attention, but a play like this explores the hearts, minds, and motives illuminating the awful truth that the plain and simple truth is never plain and never simple.

Some years earlier, Ray was caught and convicted over his sexual relationship with twelve-year-old Una, whom he first encountered at a barbecue in her family’s backyard. Some years later she tracks him down. He’s changed his name and is in a new relationship and wants desperately to put it all behind him, but Una is still serving her sentence. What does she want from him? Restitution? Closure? What happens in a messy industrial storeroom over the next hour or so explores the complexities of human relationships, not shying away from Una’s complicity in the affair.

Monica Lapka is startlingly good in a committed performance of anguish and confusion. The climax of that relationship was a trip away, that ended in a seedy hotel. There’s talk of taking a midnight ferry. She has her passport. This shocking elopement falls grotesquely apart and they tell their sides of the story. It is brilliantly written and delivered. She, abandoned, is rescued by a kindly couple walking their dog late at night, and he drives frantically searching for her, but ends up in confused tears on the floor of a phone box, having turned himself in to the police.

While Marc Clement is well known for his versatility and theatrical intelligence, his established relationship with Director, Tony Knight, as honed in their work with STARC, takes him securely into very risky territory. Lapka trained under them, so she is on their wavelength and they must have intuited her strength for the task.

The confrontation takes many forms, there’s the anger and shouting, the kicking over of waste bins, but there’s a reawakening of that old infatuation and they almost have sex on the table. Harrower’s script is superb, and they pour themselves into the story, holding nothing back.

Just before the end, we hear a woman’s voice, that of Judi Shipperly Brown, calling to Ray from outside, and her young daughter runs in to take him home. She can hardly be much older than twelve herself, and Amelie Harder brings fresh air into the toxic atmosphere.

There can’t be many people who haven’t come up against a situation like the one in Blackbird, and Harrower’s exploration stirs up a lot of painful memories. The Blackbird of the title is the Beatles’ song about taking your broken wing and learning to fly. Una’s life has her still trapped. Ray cannot escape the consequences of his actions.  The French have a phrase, folie a deux, for a relationship between two people of catastrophic madness. See it played out at Holden Street.


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