Blackbird by David Harrower at the East Riding Theatre
David Harrower’s play Blackbird won the Laurence Olivier award for the best new play of 2005. I could make a cheap pun on the appropriateness of the playwright’s name because the two-hander piece about sexual abuse is powerful and at times very disturbing. Some fifteen years after a man had had an affair with a twelve-year old girl, she has succeeded in finding him and in ninety minutes of mainly bitter dialogue, the layers which they have accumulated to live with the consequences are gradually stripped away. The brilliance of the play lies not only in the its structure, enabling the tension slowly to mount to a highly dramatic climax, not only in the sharpness and resonance of the text, but also in the ambiguity that is found in the subject matter. Abuse it is, and the harmful consequences, psychological and social, are horrifying; lives are indeed ruined. Yet love may have been involved, and the emotional scars that remain may partially reflect the loneliness and desolation that results from the necessary termination and condemnation of the relationship. All of this came out in Andrew Pearson’s production. The filthily littered factory office where the reunion takes place symbolises well the problem in cleansing the muckiness of the past – designer Ed Ullyart. Malcolm Tomlinson and Hester Arden offered keen-edged portrayals of the couple, convincing in their nervous, fidgety details. Full marks to the East Riding Theatre for the courage to stage this gripping, but far from entertaining, play; a decision rewarded by the presence of a large and attentive audience.