CITZENS THEATRE, GLASGOW
Review by Mark Brown
2016 is proving to be quite a year for Blackbird, the award-winning play by Scottish dramatist David Harrower. Originally staged, by the famous German theatre director Peter Stein, at the Edinburgh International Festival in 2005, the drama is currently enjoying its first Broadway production (starring Michelle Williams and Jeff Daniels).
A film of the play, directed by leading Australian theatre maker Benedict Andrews, is set for release later this year. Add this new Citizens Theatre company staging and one could be forgiven for thinking that 2016 had been designated a year of celebration of the play.
Which is not to say that such a celebration would not be warranted. There can be little doubt that Blackbird, in which Una (now in her late 20s) confronts Ray (the man who sexually abused her when she was aged 12), is a modern classic.
The issue of paedophilia continues to generate more heat than light in much of our mass media. It takes an artist of Harrower’s stature to explore an imagined case with such bravery, subtlety and emotional intelligence.
The play’s conversation, and the careful choreography that accompanies it, is one of modern theatre’s great explorations of human psychology and power relations. Superior to David Mamet’s Oleanna (not least because the stakes are higher), it sustains comparisons with the best work of Harold Pinter.
Director Gareth Nicholls’s has created a gripping production that captures the drama’s captivating and disquieting ambiguities. Superb actors Camrie Palmer and Paul Higgins are utterly compelling as they play out a meeting that is riven with mixed emotions and conflicting instincts.
The play’s conflicts are as much within the two characters as between them. Palmer’s Una shifts agonisingly between rage, hurt, fondness, attraction and enduring suspicion.
Higgins’s Ray (known in his new life as “Peter”) is a remarkably nuanced picture of barely sustained indignation mixed with regret, affection and fear. At times his body language suggests that he is shrinking, as if he wants to disappear.
As with Pinter’s rooms, the play’s setting, a disgusting, garbage-strewn factory dining room, is a battleground. Designers Neil Haynes (set and costumes) and Stuart Jenkins (lighting) emphasise that brilliantly by creating a space that is simultaneously naturalistic and abstract.
Sound designer Daniel Krass offers a clever, understated score that is perfectly attuned to an admirable rendering of a great 21st-century play.
Until March 5. Details: citz.co.uk
This review was originally published on the website of the Daily Telegraph on February 29, 2016
© Mark Brown