Monday, 29 February 2016

Blackbird

Citizens Theatre, Glasgow
Four stars

When the lights go out on twenty-something Una mid-way through David Harrower's taboo-busting psycho-drama, she's left alone in a room full of domestic debris. The painful silence and eventual cry for help that follows make it feel like this is the second time she's been deserted by Ray, the man now known as Peter who she went on the run with fifteen years before. That was when he was forty and she was twelve. In the gulf between the couple's two meetings, lives have been lived, torn apart and just possibly rebuilt. In the play's 100 minute duration, played without an interval, those lives are exposed in all their fragility before being turned upside down once more.

A decade after it premiered at Edinburgh International Festival, the emotional cache of Harrower's play becomes more powerful with its every reading. As this new production by Gareth Nicholls – no stranger to intense two-handers following his production of Gitta Sereny's Into That Darkness last year - the relationship between Una and Ray is infinitely more complex than any cheap stab at tabloid-making sensationalism.

Ray is no politician or TV celebrity taking advantage of his position or heart-throb status, and Una is no glamour-chasing former teeny-bopper on the make. If anything, it is the sheer everyday ordinariness of both their lives and the feelings neither are in control of that gives the play its believability. There are moments in their lengthy exchanges that recall those between John Proctor and Abigail in Arthur Miller's play, The Crucible. Here, however, the consequences are even more intimate

As Ray, Paul Higgins is a haunted bag of neuroses who flits between humility and resentment at what he's lost, and if anything seems more damaged than Una. As played by Camrie Palmer, she at first seems equally sure of herself before gradually falling apart. As the pair roll around in the mess of their own making both psychologically and physically, passions are purged even as they're briefly rekindled to complicate their lives once more en route to closure in a brilliantly unflinching tug of love.

The Herald, February 29th 2016

ends

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