White Box in association with The Seymour Centre present, BLACKROCK, by Nick Enright, in the Reginald Theatre, at the Seymour Centre, Chippendale. 9 March -
In 1989 there was a horrendous beachside murder of a young girl during a surf club party that had social and political reverberations throughout the state of New South Wales (NSW). In 1992, the Freewheel Theatre in Education commissioned a play from Nick Enright: A PROPERTY OF THE CLAN, to bring discussion within the community of the cultural circumstances that could evolve such behaviour. In 1995, Mr Enright re-visited the material and for the Sydney Theatre Company (STC), wrote BLACKROCK, under commission. In 1997, it was made into a film. I have always preferred A PROPERTY OF THE CLAN, as a piece of writing, and play.
In the Reginald Theatre, in an 80 minute, no-interval sitting, BLACKROCK, erupts its ugly world of male violence towards women, revealing a community of behaviour across two generations - parents and their children - in complicit acceptance of the status quo of its world. One has always known, if not publicly acknowledged, the reality of the world of this play, and watching it in 2017, it is even more disturbing, for NOTHING has really changed. (Just check out your daily news stories.) That this play was also a part of the Education Syllabus in NSW for many years is also a chilling challenge, to the belief that education may be a solution to bringing about change. For, few of us are what can be called 'evil' and what this play proposes is that it is rather a 'nurturing' by generational inheritance that is the source of the crimes of this kind. It is a sociological problem, which is a fundamental condition of our present societal construct. The change must happen with a social 'revolution' and the offering of equal opportunity, perhaps.
This production, Directed by Kim Hardwick, has all of Ms Hardwick's usual hallmark of visual details (e.g. THE SHADOW BOX), Designed, by Isabel Hudson - a black rock resting on a floor of shifting sand - and Lit by Martin Kinnane with sinister shifting effect, accompanied by a subtle soundscape, Composed, by Nate Edmondson.
The young cast playing the adolescents of the play: Danny Ball (Davo), Sam Delich (Ricko), Lucy Heffernan (Cherie), Tessa James (Rachel), Lucia Rose May (Shana), Joshua McElroy (Scotty), Alex Packard (Toby), Gautier Pavlovic-Hobba (Jared), and Kate Vozella (Tiffany), are supported by Zoe Carides (Diane Kirby), Noel Hodda (a trio of men - fathers and boyfriend), and Danielle King (Marian and Glenys).
The performances gained in strength as the night progressed, with Mr Delich, as Ricko, particularly, arresting - he had a presence of unpredictable danger. On the other hand, Mr Pavolic-Hobba (Jared), seemed inconsistent in his full commitment to all of his character's ugly and difficult journey - sometimes, there was demonstration of emotion rather than a steadier experiencing of truth to tell the story, by not always engaging in the detail of his text - trusting to a 'gist' of connection of thought and emotion to develop his action, and expressively, physically and vocally 'intellectually' contriving, giving us, peaks, bursts, at an overwrought pitch in effort, that derailed us out of involved belief - we were watching an actor 'act'.
The final moment, Directed by Ms Hardwick, gave us an optimistic smile from this character (Jared), with a nearby triumphant woman (Cherie) on the Blackrock, holding a surf board in a golden light, which seemed to undercut the truth of the experience of this play in the theatre, attempting to give a hopeful sheen to the events of the play. For, even in 2017, still, our present world and attitude to misogynistic violence has not altered one iota. It is, mostly, tolerated. The optimism of the final image is, then, a falsehood of what we know, has happened since 1995.
The 'girls' of the company were not as strong as the 'boys', Ms Heffernan and James were not consistent (or experienced) enough to have us believe the character's predicaments. Mostly, I felt that all the work - the adult characters, as well - seemed to need a deeper 'plumbing' - it sometimes 'demonstrated' rather than truly 'experienced' the circumstances of story and character, and resultedly, we were let off the true intensity of this world. This work requires much courage from the actors to create - it represents a true darkness of the human condition - not a comfortable or easy thing to commit to nightly. 'Pretending' well is not good enough.
The playwriting itself strikes a disconcerting note, and is one that, perhaps, dates this work as a valid statement for today, when the male bullies, intimidators, rapists and murders are suggested to be the 'victims', because of their societal 'playground'. They, after all, still, made choices. We need a new play, one written by a woman, perhaps, to speak to us today, and not a revival of BLACKROCK, to take up the discussion. Patricia Cornelius, with SAVAGES, and SLUT, feels more pertinent than this exercise of graphic verbal violence.
BLACKROCK, is a confronting and unrelenting ugliness of our community, not only as a historical fact but as a present truth. This production can arrest one but, ultimately, fails to release the full terror, horror of the play's potential, and feels uncomfortably dated.