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Visit the active LitNet platform at www.litnet.co.za

Vermaak | Entertainment > Teater | Theatre > Resensies | Reviews

Blackbird: A riveting production of brutal tenderness

Anton Krueger - 2007-08-06

At the Market Theatre until 19 August

The English press compared Blackbird to David Mamet’s Oleanna, and there are many similarities, not least of which is that both involve powerful confrontations between an older man and an angry young woman. The dialogue – particularly in the exposition – is textbook Mamet, with fragmentary half sentences and breathless, incomplete clauses driving the action forward. It feels as though one never quite gets to the object of sentences, as the grammar keeps pushing one relentlessly on as one tries to make sense of the nature of the relationship between the two characters on stage. 

A plastic set places the conflict in a contradictory setting – a filthy dental hygiene facility. Representations of both sanitation amidst a devastation of filth and debris feed into metaphors for purity and shame. As the lightning fast interactions jolt and jar across the stage, anonymous faces peer in through frosted glass.

I’m hesitant to write about the plot of this play, since there is the danger of giving too much away about the critical relationship shared by these two. Also, I wouldn’t want to spoil the striking way in which the introduction reaches this central revelation. On the other hand, it feels almost impossible to write purely in the abstract without tying my reading to the narrative flow, since the story is rooted in such a vital veracity, in such real characters. With these considerations in mind, here is a vastly oversimplified version of the story line: A woman has traced the adult man who was convicted fifteen years earlier of her statutory rape. He’s served his time, and she has now discovered him in his new role and under his new name, having driven a very long way in order to confront him.

The beauty of the piece lies in the way in which every time one imagines that one has worked out the only viable moral conclusion which can be drawn, one’s expectations and preconceptions are shattered anew as the writing heads in a different direction entirely.

This is a dangerous work which doesn’t so much open a can of worms as it releases an entire congerie of eels. Dark subliminal undercurrents of the abject emerge in an emotional exploration which is both brutal and yet strangely tender.

The production is a magnificent coming together of astonishing acting, a script sheared of all excess, and precise direction. Intense performances from John Vine and Katie Wimpenny keep one rooted from start to finish. It’s rare to pass 80 minutes in such utter silence from an audience who scarcely dared to move, who sat there riveted.

When I first read heard the title of this play, my first thought was that it was taken from the Beatles’ song. But then I discovered that there were a great many songs about blackbirds, from the traditional to the macabre, with lyrics about “broken wings”, and “hard luck stories”; about “lovers' caresses” and “lily-white breasts”. One thing the many songs about blackbirds seem to share, however, is a sense of lament, of both longing and leaving. This play is about trying to come to terms with an irreconcilable past; with feelings and desires for which there is no resolution, for actions for which reparation can never be made.