When Una turns up at Ray’s workplace unexpectedly, he ushers her into a room to talk alone. Their conversation starts off full of confusion and awkwardness but, as the true nature of their relationship becomes apparent, confusion turns to feelings and emotions altogether more complicated.
David Harrower’s play was controversial on its debut, and understandably so. Even those familiar with The Other Room’s canon would consider this a notch above in its level of intensity and claustrophobia. In easier moments, the play is unsettling; but at its darkest, it is almost terrifying. What it never stops being is unmissable.
Blackbird’s ability to draw out so many conflicting responses from the audience is entirely down to the subject matter. Exploring themes that are still very taboo, it can be a tough pill to swallow. But what makes it all so unsettling is that, at its core, the play is a love story. Wade through the darkness and overt depravity of the situation, and you’re left with two vulnerable people harbouring a tender love for each other. The audience are taken through a rollercoaster of emotions and at arguably its most pleasant moment, the play provides one beautifully timed final punch to the gut.
Those two vulnerable people are played – superbly – by Sophie Melville and Christian Patterson. Undoubtedly two of the greatest actors Swansea has produced in recent years, Melville and Patterson give a masterclass in tension and repression. Taking characters that Harrower has already fleshed out brilliantly in his writing, they put their personal stamps on them and make it difficult to imagine anybody else stepping in.
With such an emotional play it’s easy to go too far, but credit needs to go to Rupert Hands for his very assured direction. He does a fantastic job of reining the two actors in, making sure emotions don’t run too high. The play works because of how much repressed emotion there is, and Hands makes it work. He’s equally adept with the technical side of things, guiding proceedings with a deft touch. Sound and lighting is used both sparingly and significantly. One specific sequence takes place in darkness, with only the sound of scared breathing audible is wonderful in its simplicity.
Blackbird is possibly not for those with a nervous disposition, and is arguably a tough one even for those who don’t. But new theatre company Those Two Imposters have produced a piece of theatre that should be seen regardless.