The set is bleak, as is what brings the characters together. Blackbird’s story all unfolds in what feels like an oppressive office lunchroom – plastic furniture, harsh lighting, and rubbish everywhere.

By the end of the 70-minute production, the bins have been overturned and it looks and feels like the characters are drowning in filth. After everything unravels, the room doesn’t seem big enough to contain the rubbish, the characters, and the pain and trauma of the narrative.

Blackbird, written by Scottish playwright David Harrower, is an award-winning play in which Una (Monika Lapka), a woman in her 20s, confronts Ray (Marc Clement), a man 28 years her senior, after 15 years apart. When Una was 12, she experienced sexual abuse at the hands of Ray.

The plot follows a gruelling conversation between the two adults, examining how the choices made 15 years ago have shaped both of their lives.

Lapka plays Una with an erraticism that reflects deep distress. There is also a childlike quality to her performance that makes the dynamic increasingly uncomfortable, but which is necessary to demonstrate that one can’t outgrow trauma. Lapka balances this all very well.

Clement makes the troubled character of Ray hard to read, holding his cards close to his chest. It feels that while Uma is undone, vulnerable and existing like she has nothing to lose, he avoids such exposure – which is perhaps how these stories unfold.

Marc Clement and Monika Lapka in Blackbird. Photo: supplied

As we are drip-fed information about Ray, the audience struggles to work out who he is, and what is true and what isn’t about the pair’s history and about his current life. Clement deserves credit for such a memorable portrayal of a character who is so hard to pin down.

Tony Knight’s direction reflects the precarious and straining power imbalances between the characters. Space and separation are used brilliantly on stage, highlighting the tension and complicated magnetism that comes after trauma.

Design details, such as a moist dripping noise that audiences hear when they walk in, prime us for discomfort.

Blackbird was written in 2005 and won the Lawrence Olivier Award for Best New Play in 2007, as well being nominated for a Tony Award for Best Revival of a Play after its Broadway season with actors Jeff Daniels and Michelle Williams in 2016. But a lot has changed since then in the way we speak about child sex abuse, thanks to the efforts of advocates like Grace Tame. This includes a reassessment of certain types of language, such as use of the word “relationship” to describe what is indisputably “sexual abuse of a child”.

At times, the writing in Blackbird feels like it doesn’t reflect the progress we’ve made. However, the direction and performances bring a humanity to the story that makes it hard to forget.

Solus Productions is presenting Blackbird at Holden Street Theatres until April 13.


Make a comment View comment guidelines

Support local arts journalism

Your support will help us continue the important work of InReview in publishing free professional journalism that celebrates, interrogates and amplifies arts and culture in South Australia.

Donate Here

. You are free to republish the text and graphics contained in this article online and in print, on the condition that you follow our republishing guidelines.

You must attribute the author and note prominently that the article was originally published by InReview.  You must also inlude a link to InReview. Please note that images are not generally included in this creative commons licence as in most cases we are not the copyright owner. However, if the image has an InReview photographer credit or is marked as “supplied”, you are free to republish it with the appropriate credits.

We recommend you set the canonical link of this content to to insure that your SEO is not penalised.

Copied to Clipboard