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Arts Festival Review: Blackbird

Arts Festival Review: Blackbird

Review by Lyndon Hood

Blackbird
By David Harrower
Directed by Cate Blanchett
Shed 6 [in TSB Bank Arena]
23 - 25 Feb
75 Minutes
http://www.nzfestival.nzpost.co.nz/theatre/blackbird for details and bookings


15 years ago Ray and Una ran away together. He was 41; she was twelve. He has served six years in jail for child abuse and then changed his name; now he has found him.

On both sides, however, things are not simple. Ray still feels he had a real relationship with Una; she, as a 12-year-old, felt the same. Both are concealing facts about their present life and Ray appears to be actively lying.

Played with the audience seated around the stage in the midst of a disturbing soundscape Blackbird methodically unravels the strange psychological dramas of the situation, past and present. The 'issue' of pedophilia seems to be used here as a way to bring people to extremes rather than to make any statement about anything.

At one point, in passing, parodying the comments of various therapists, Paula Arundell's Una talks about adults who lie to get what they want and "don't even know they're lying". That reflects the instability of emotional and actual truth in the play. In this play with two opposing characters and no declared protagonist, that makes it difficult to orient oneself. More so as we are periodically reminded of the moral fact that we are talking about sex with a 12-year-old.

So the centre of piece is these two characters in this specific situation. Peter Kowitz's Ray is credibly anxious, almost everything he says and does carrying a sense of desperation. That realistic tension may have clouded some of the nuances of the performance. Beside him Arundell's Una seem almost improbably relaxed, touching a range of emotions from anger to strange genuine laughter, with only sudden moments of instability hinting that there is something bigger going on

The action proceeds at a cracking pace - the skills of the actors and director are as much on display holding our attention riveted through what is for much of it length in the form of arguments and recollections. The odd thing is that ultimately I didn't care, didn't feel that it all mattered. For me the characters were interesting rather than sympathetic.

The frustration - perhaps also the hook - of Blackbird is that almost nothing is resolved. Even the facts of events both past and present are not clear, obscured by the stories both the characters tell each other and have told themselves. A just at the moment when the action tilts into crisis - with Ray's new partner outside and that partner's child (Danielle Catanzariti) making an appearance - just when something critical is clearly going to happen, the play stops.

What will happen next? What should happen next? The unavoidable questions posed by the sudden ending remain but so far they haven't rewarded my speculation.

********

Blackbird on the Arts Festival website

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