Blackbird, Summerhall, Review

Rating (out of 5)
Show details
Firebrand Theatre in partnership with Heart of Hawick
David Harrower (writer), Richard Baron (director), Jon Beales (composer and sound designer), Edward Lipscomb (staging consultant), Stephen Moffat (technician and operator)

Romana Abercromby (Una), Greg Wagland (Ray), Esme Biggar (Girl)
Running time

A disturbing exposé of illicit desire, David Harrower’s highly acclaimed two-hander tackles the taboo subject of sex between an adult and a minor.

Ray (Greg Wagland) and Una (Romana Abercromby) had a three month relationship when he was 40 and she was 12. Ray served a 6 year sentence for the affair and has now re-invented himself with a new name and some respectability. Fifteen years after the relationship Una sees a magazine article with Ray’s photo, and tracks him down to his workplace. The ensuing drama lays bare the complex mesh of emotions that snares these two.

The flaking walls and crumbly atmosphere of Summerhall’s Demonstration Room is a more than apt setting for the chaotic common room, where the notice ‘Self Clearing Area. Please dispose of all food waste in appropriate bins’ is ignored in grand style - a clear metaphor for the mess of these two people’s lives.

The set’s harsh lights serve as another metaphor for his fearless look at an uncomfortable subject. The room’s high ceilings made the actors voices echo and at first be a little unintelligible but ears adjusted over the piece.

Harrower’s brilliant script takes us on a tunnelled, roller-coaster ride of shifting dynamics between these two, going through accusation, denial, justification, sexual play and passion.

Like a modern day version of Nabokov’s Lolita, where a grown man becomes obsessed with a pre- pubescent girl, Ray rejects the label of paedophile, but the results of his irresponsible adult actions against a child, albeit a sexually precocious one, are inevitably dangerous, corrupting and damaging.

Una recalls that the judge’s announcement was she had “suspiciously adult yearnings” and it is she who pursues her abuser, but it is also she who is utterly sullied. Her collusion innocent; the adult’s knowing.

At first Ray seems as though he is dealing with some kind of corporate problem rather than the raw emotion of being faced with a former lover. Then 15 minutes in, the fact of Una having been 12 years old and he 40 explodes everything and Wagland takes this character through its paces with assuredness.

Romana Abercromby gives an impassioned performance as the haunted Una. One minute a strutting harridan, the next an eager to please compliant, she captures that vulnerable dichotomy that sums up the character. Young Esme Biggar does well in her small but significant role as the Girl. The variety of site specific locations used for this play’s current run is testament to Richard Baron’s astute direction.

Topped and tailed with Beatles’ Blackbird and Bye Bye Blackbird, this tense, powerful and riveting drama poses unsettling questions about what love is and whether should the past be left alone.

Just in its third year, Firebrand is a young company with big ambitions. Performances like those in Blackbird fully cement their growing reputation.

Show times

Wednesday 26 February – Saturday 1 March 7.30pm

Tickets: £13/£11

Age suitability 16+