Saturday, 1 March 2014

Blackbird

Summerhall, Edinburgh
Four stars
It's almost a decade since David Harrower's relentless study of psychosexual politics between a fifty something man and the woman he had a sexual relationship fifteen years earlier when she was twelve premiered at the Edinburgh International Festival. Then, it broke taboos, however ambiguous its stance. Now, as the Hawick-based Firebrand company revive it for a mini tour of intimate spaces, in a post Jimmy Savile climate where 'paedo' is a standard playground insult and the vagaries of 1970s liberalism are being thrown back in their apparent advocates faces, Blackbird looks more troublingly relevant than ever.

Yet there's nothing exploitative when Romana Abercromby's Una bursts in on Greg Wagland's Ray at his work-place in Richard Baron's unflinchingly intimate production. Rather, there's an underlying sense of unfinished business, even as the mess the pair made of each other's lives seems to be summed up in the discarded pizza boxes on the floor. Una's girlishness comes alive when she spins on a broken swivel-chair, though her lengthy spewed-up confessional later suggests that girlishness has been corrupted forever. After initial terror of his past life being exposed, Ray too recognises the bond that lingers as they edge towards a damaging reconciliation.

With the lights up on the audience throughout, nothing is hidden on either side of the experience. Yet, despite the up close and personal scale of the action, it never feels small. There are moments, in fact, when the orchestrated linguistic ricochets of action and consequence feel positively operatic. Only the scenes of sex and violence need to be more unhinged in a doomed love story with an excess of complications laid bare even as it dares you to take sides.

The Herald, February 28th 2014


ends

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