Pembroke New Cellars, Thurs 14th- Sat 16th, 7pm
Blackbird forces the audience to question their views of love and paedophilia. It is an enthralling but truly terrifying play that powerfully addresses the complexities of sexual abuse. It revolves around the encounter of a woman and her childhood abuser who she has hunted down to his litter-strewn office after many years apart. The two characters, Una (Nisha Emlich) and Ray (Charlie Merriman) have both reworked their pasts in their minds to try to rationalise it, either by making themselves an uncomplicated victim or as ‘different’ to those other sick-minded paedophiles.
The play follows their journeys of self-interrogation, centred around the therapy they had and letters they wrote in the aftermath of their relationship, that expose the flaws in the stories they have told themselves for so many years. What makes the play shocking is not the horrible details of sexual abuse, but the strength of emotion between a 12-year-old child and her adult ‘lover’. Although some of the lines are scary, they are not melodramatic. This can be seen in the simple statements: ‘I did your sentence… I kept my name’, which expresses the power of Una’s anger towards Ray, who she cannot stand to see moving on and putting his past behind him.
The change in how Una and Ray relate to each other is fast in this one-scene play, but the first choppy and disjointed speech and the later closeness was delivered faultlessly. The intimacy of the theatre and its set-up in the round accentuates the changes in how the characters interact, with them sometimes almost throwing themselves into the audience, and at other points seeming to echo their past by playing together like children.
However, the jarring difference in their ages was not portrayed in their acting, which perhaps made it more difficult to remain aware of how unbalanced their relationship is even as adults. The choice not to make Merriman look like he was greying is understandable, but he simply didn’t move like a man in his late 50s. But despite this, their intimacy left the audience uncomfortably speechless at the end of the performance, which is surely a triumph for the actors involved.
The set and lighting were simple but effective. The rubbish everywhere acted as a backdrop to their ruined pasts but also as props for playfulness and the lighting was harsh. The concentration of the play into one room with a small door fits the intensity that would have been lessened by scene changes or a larger space. Overall, this is a very strong performance of a hugely challenging play that asks powerful questions that we cannot hope to answer about love in paedophilia.