BY david harrower

7April - 25 April 2010 . Roundhouse Theatre,
La Boite.

Una Kathryn Fray
Ray Daniel Murphy
Girl Emmie Seaton
  Monique Welch
  Sam McLean


Mark Conaghan

Set Designer Kade Sproule
Lighting Designer Jason Glenwright
Composer / Sound Design Chris Perrin
Executive Producer Kathryn Fray
Production Assistant Nicole Bilson
Producer Christopher Sommers
Stage Manager Gabriella Zsolnai
ASM Dan Sinclair  
Fight Coordinator Nigel Poulson
Secondment ASMs

Justin Boas
Charleen Marsters
Katherine Usherwood

Stills Photographer Alice Muhling

'Childhood  innocence and adult guilt should never be assumed... '

23rd Productions was the second company to perform in the inaugural La Boite Indie season in 2010 at the Round House Theatre, Kelvin Grove.

In a debris-filled factory lunchroom, one-time lovers Ray and Una are reunited. As they sort through secrets and selfdeceptions, it becomes clear that theirs was no ordinary love affair. Fifteen years ago when the 3-month relationship began, Una was just 12-years-old and Ray was her 40-year-old neighbour. 

watch the e-trailer...


Images of blackbird - april 2010

Daniel Murphy and Kathryn Fray
Photo: Akice Muhling
Daniel Murphy and Kathryn Fray
Photo: Akice Muhling
Daniel Murphy and Kathryn Fray
Photo: Akice Muhling
Daniel Murphy and Kathryn Fray
Photo: Akice Muhling

Review- ABC Brisbane - sue gough

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review - blackbird - our brisbane

Reviewed by Katherine Lyall Watson

What an incredible play. Provocative, engaging and the focus of hours of conversation, Blackbird is theatre that will have you squirming on your seat.

This production follows hard on the heels of The Bitterling in the La Boite Indie program and is brought to stage by 23rd Productions, who gave usPillowman last year. (We’ll find out next week how many Matilda Awards Pillowman has won out of the five it’s been nominated for.)

David Harrower’s play Blackbird was first seen at the Edinburgh International Festival in 2005 and went on to win an Olivier Award in 2007. It's a deeply disturbing play that takes place in real time (approximately 90 minutes with no interval).

Blackbird is about what happens when a 27-year-old woman finds and confronts the 55-year-old man she was in a relationship with 15 years ago. You do the maths on that one to work out how old they both were at the time of the ‘relationship’.

What Harrower does so brilliantly in this play, is to stop us making easy judgements. Paedophile is the word that springs to mind (as it should) but then Harrower muddies the water and gives us a dangerous version of star-crossed lovers, missing each other by minutes at a pivotal moment.

Una (Kathryn Fray) has 15 years of rage and hurt coiled inside her and she’s stretched to breaking point trying to hold it all in. When she finally tracks down Ray (Daniel Murphy) we can see the resolve needed to stop her flying at him, hissing and spitting.

Kathryn Fray and Daniel Murphy are classy professionals. While the subject of the play is confronting and horrifying, they make it easy to believe every moment and to care about both characters. It would be easy to hate Ray (many people would say that we should hate him) but Harrower as writer and Murphy as actor make things much more complicated. He appears more pathetic than anything else: evoking our pity rather than our hate.

The play takes place in a grotty staffroom at an unnamed factory. Una spotted Ray’s photo in a trade magazine and has driven for hours to confront him at his work. Kade Sproule’s set design plays up the filthy nature of the room with rubbish piled up next to the bin, and on all surfaces. If you lift your eyes from the rubbish you’ll see great exposed pipes and beams towering over the office façade. The overall effect is that the civilised veneer is just that – a veneer. Skeletons and filth are exposed in the room, just as they will be in the play.

While the script refers to the rubbish several times, I found the extent of it quite distracting. If you’re going to use rubbish and have a stage covered in filth, then the actors need to respond to it at all times. What does it say about them when they sit down next to an overflowing bin? Maybe that they’re too emotional to notice it, but what message are you giving the audience? I felt as if the piles of rubbish were a gift from the writer and the designer that the direction didn’t utilise as much as it could have.

Mark Conaghan’s direction focuses on the humanity of both characters and keeps the script’s mysteries alive. He has encouraged sensitive and emotionally believable performances from both actors. While I would have liked a little less emotion at the start (to give the actors further to travel as the play went on), the high notes they struck were flawless. 

Jason Glenwright makes the most of the moments where he can go to town with the lighting, using it to great effect in Una’s seven-and-a-half minute monologue and in the moments when the light shines through the venetian blinds rather than from the harsh office lighting. (I only know the length of the monologue because I asked Kathryn Fray! I was far too riveted listening to it, to do something as mundane as look at the clock.)Chris Perren’s composition is used sparingly and beautifully at the start and close of the play, leaving the rest of the piece as naturalistic as possible.

Blackbird is highly recommended for anyone who appreciates great performances and challenging material. It is not easy viewing. Chances are you’ll squirm in your seat over the subject matter, but it may well make you question your assumptions and look at the world slightly differently. See it while you have the chance: you'll be talking about it for days and you'll be supporting independent theatre in Brisbane.


review - blackbird - Actor's greenroom

by Kate Foy

Two people in a room locked in a battle of wills; menace under a veneer of (relative) politeness; conversation peppered with mundanities; phrases cut off; topics shift; and the air hums with tension.  They could leave, but don’t.  Harold Pinter?  No, it’s David Harrower and Blackbird, the latest from the feisty 23rd Productions in La Boite’s second offering for their 2010 Indie series.

The ghost of Pinter lurks around the edges of this Brit psycho-drama and 2007 Olivier Awards Best Play winner from Scotsman, Harrower.  It’s easy to see why.  There’s something terrible haunting the protagonists, Una and Ray; something from their past has taken over their lives.  Obsession, betrayal, blame, grieving, a fling at healing – all drive the play’s action as each rakes over events from years long gone.  Every beat is masterfully crafted into a duet that probes society’s notions of morality set in counterpoint with individual desire. 

And then there’s Pinter and memory: As I remember it, so it happened, the old master wrote in Old Times (1971).  The same obsession with memory and its unreliability is here in Blackbird.  Shards of Una and Ray’s past lives are recollected, pieced together, and retold.  As Will Eno does in his story-telling Thom Pain, David Harrower in Blackbirdprobes and seizes the audience’s imagination, challenges its assumptions, and moves on.  What’s left out is more emphatic, finally, than what we’ve been told.  Whose truth is true?  Which story do we trust?  Should we?  Can we?  Who, ultimately is victim, and who’s the oppressor?

Ray is a convicted child-abuser, and Una the child he abused so many years before.  Neither is a particularly likeable character and, ultimately, we don’t really care for one more than the other.  It’s a play that questions received moral values, and the conclusions – if there are any – are far from simplistic.  Ray and Una’s humanity and Harrower’s clever text subverts the all too-easy relegation of character to the ‘good’ or the ‘bad.’  Ultimately each is victim to themselves and to each other.  Neither seems to care very much for the lives they now lead; each has a strong streak of self-loathing.  But Blackbird is no depressing, self-indulgent psycho-probe, but a piece of robust theatre full of crackling intensity, intrigue, and the complexity of character.

Ray and Una inhabit a haunting ground, ostensibly the lunch-room (from hell) of a business somewhere, we assume, in one of those familiar, faceless industrial estates.  It’s a liminal space, a wasteland: ‘Do you live here?’ ‘What do you do?’  Una asks Ray as she looks around the overflowing garbage bins and litter that seems to cover every surface in the awful room.  Pretty soon we find out that the wreckage of their lives is as real as the mess around them, and the flawed pair are no match for their own invisible baggage, the burdensome ghosts they’ve carried around for 15 years.  Blackbird is about the encounter at the end of a day between Ray and Una.  Despite moments of tenderness and warmth, their obsession with and terrible playing out of the past will bring no peace.  The final line of the play, “Ray!” is shouted by Una as she follows him out and away.  It echoes round an empty space.  We know the haunting will go on.

Kathryn Fray as Una was simply terrific.  She doesn’t put a boot-clad foot wrong.  Her Una is revenger in full-flight with a thoroughly contemporary attitude.  She’s neverthless a fragile thing at heart.  The cracks in Una will never be healed, and the answers she so desperately craves – the rationale for a life lost – will never be answered.  Una tracks down Ray, the only person from her past who might provide some clues – someone she can, perhaps, punish for her loss.  Like the building he inhabits, Ray is also nondescript, boring, clad in cheap clothes, anxiety-ridden, eyes red-rimmed and sore; the kind of unfortunate bloke that has soft, permanently sweaty hands.  After a slowish start, Daniel Murphy nailed all the insecurity, anxiety and anguish that is Ray’s constant sorrow and burden.

Mark Conaghan‘s direction is beautifully unadorned – just right.  It appears he has given the stage to the actors and let them fly – something ‘an actor’s director’ does.  Mark is also an accomplished actor, and I imagine he cast and developed his production to give his actors the freedom and confidence he knew the play demanded.  Conaghan directs them well, creating a tight, well-paced production of a very difficult text.  (Aside: It’s one of those fragmented, overlapping dialogue pieces that must be hell to learn.)  Apart from an oddly colourful lighting change during Una’s 7 minute monologue on a key event from the past, the director smartly puts the focus where it needs to be and with a minimum of fuss and distraction – on Ray and Una.

Conaghan has also directed really satisfying work from his production design team: Jason Glenwright (lighting), Kade Sproule (set), and Chris Perren (composer) have created and enhanced the visual and aural world for Blackbird. The landscapes of the mind and the heart, as well as the physical space of the (literal) wasteland surrounding Una and Ray are nuanced, unobtrusive, and beautifully judged.

If you like clarity in a production, watching good actors at work on a script that’s imaginative, intelligent, and has a big dollop of challenge, then Blackbird is for you.  It’s 90 minutes or so of super theatre.