19 June 2014
Reviewed by Lisa Wilson
Inspired by the case of Toby Studebaker, an American ex-marine who, in 2003, ran off with a 12-year-old British schoolgirl whom he had met in an Internet chat room. David Harrower created the fascinating play Blackbird. A gripping play of two people in a sexual relationship that never should have existed.
Blackbird is a stripped back emotional, bare-bones drama concentrating entirely on the two characters of Una (Sian Weedon) and Ray (Chris Saunders). The set is simple, no bells or whistles just a man and a women and an insight to the history, pain and suffering caused by a love and lost relationship that happened some fifteenth years ago insolently at a neighbours (Una’s parents) BBQ with a unhappy little girl.Ray was forty at the time and became friends with Una upon meeting at the BBQ and trying to see why she wasn’t happy.
However over the next few months the relationship developed and soon they would be meeting anywhere possible, Una’s parents unaware what’s going on Ray and Una’s relationship developed into a story of sexual abuse. Now some fifteenth years later Una now around 27 with the pain of the past has come back to confront Ray in a confrontation where both characters souls are bared for all to see and feel.
Ray now the best part of 60 has spent several years in prison for his actions, he has now changed his name (Peter) met another woman and moved on with his life. Leaving his dark past squashed and locked up in his mind as far back as he can push it. He works in an office where the play is set. Taking place in a scruffy staff canteen littered with rubbish from his workers it seems Ray still has trouble controlling his life. Una shows up having found Peter’s (Ray’s) picture in a glossy magazine you might find flicking through whilst waiting for your appointment at your local doctor surgery. At first it’s easy for most people to stamp this play as plain sexual abuse and it is make no mistake but what it is also is a tragic love story of a lonely 40 year old man and a excited 12 year old girl who wanted attention and to feel like a grown up. The play opens your mind and understanding of such a case and its complexities within the feelings of Una and Ray. Ray disgusted with himself, hiding away from his past is forced to uproot his history with Una as Una pours out her soul and gives light to her dark past, her present and her feelings of love, loss, anger and pain. The psychological damage done to Una and also to Ray is quite clear but it’s not simply a tale of the hatred Una has for Ray or a screaming match between the two. It comes apparent that there is still feelings good and bad on both sides and how neither of them have ever truly been able to let go or hide away successfully the horrific events of their past.
We went to the Lowry to watch Blackbird and really enjoyed this style of play which can seem quite different if you are used to big stages, large casts and lots of visual effects and noises. The play is set simply with mostly two people in a works staff room. Both Sian Weedon and Chris Saunders played their characters extremely well, showing a real feeling of how both Una and Ray lived with their past and present. The story line is an in-depth insight to both sides of the characters very souls and it is this that makes this drama so special.
The Lowry, Pier 8, Salford Quays, Manchester, M50 3AZ | 0843 208 6000