The Forge at The Court Theatre, Christchurch

26/09/2008 - 25/10/2008

Production Details

BLACKBIRD a harrowing drama

BLACKBIRD is as confrontational a play as they come; from the gripping opening exchange of words to the ambiguous ending that leaves audiences reeling, this is an incendiary piece of drama that asks serious questions about love and morality.

This unflinchingly intense exploration of two damaged souls made BLACKBIRD an explosive hit at the Edinburgh International Festival, garnered the author David Harrower a Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Play 2007 and has led this tightly-wound drama to international acclaim. It plays at The Forge at The Court Theatre from September 26.

Director Stephanie McKellar-Smith describes BLACKBIRD as a play about "two people forced to face the consequences of their decisions head-on." McKellar-Smith says the actors (John Bach and Mel Dodge) prepared for their roles through an "incredibly intense, physical and exhausting rehearsal process exploring the complex, intense characters with raw and breathtaking courage".

Fifteen years after a relationship which transformed their lives, Una finds a picture of Ray in a trade magazine and traces him to his workplace. Her sudden appearance drags their shared past into the present with electrifying results. John Bach, no stranger to dark subject matter from his role in television crime drama Duggan (and well-known to Christchurch audiences from his roles in The Raft, Year of the Rat and Heroes) plays Ray. Mel Dodge, an actress with a wealth of roles throughout New Zealand (including My Heart is Bathed in Blood) debuts on The Forge’s stage as Una.

The subject matter and themes of BLACKBIRD are guaranteed to spark debate, and it is this as much as the strong writing and expertly-rendered characters that electrifies audiences. Critical response has hailed the show as "dark and beguiling"; "provocative and poetic" and "a pas-de-deux of bitterness, shame, regret and passion". McKellar-Smith has taken great care to avoid telling people what to think, firmly believing that "great theatre should leave audiences with more questions than it answers".

The Forge urges audiences to join Una and Ray on their dark journey and experience this gripping, controversial and thought-provoking piece of drama.

Venue:  The Forge at The Court
Show dates:  26 September – 25 October 
Monday – Saturday, 8pm
Tickets:  $30 adults; $25 seniors/groups 10+; $20 students  
Bookings:  Phone 963 0870 or online

Una:  Mel Dodge
Ray:  John Bach

Set Design & Construction:  Julian Southgate
Set Design Assistant:  Claudia Piepenbrock
Sound & Lighting Design / Operator:  Josh Major
Costume Design:  Bronwyn Corbet & Beryl Hampson
Rehearsal Stage Manager:  Charlotte Thompson
Acting Production Manager:  Anna Dodgshun

1hr 30 mins, no interval

Horror and humanity where victim turns predator

Review by Lindsay Clark 01st Oct 2008

The play that stirred audiences up at the International Festival in Wellington earlier this year, packs an even more visceral wallop in the confined space of The Forge. With feral intensity the two main actors shred the veil of discretion and distaste which usually cloaks discussion about sex with a minor and the audience is left with a new awareness of the complexities and painfulness that follow when a 40 year old man enters a physical affair with the twelve year old daughter of a friend.

Stephanie McKellar-Smith is a director who relishes strong material, allowing only the briefest respite between bouts of angry and violent interchange. Nevertheless the play is finely controlled and builds to each climactic moment with precision.

The outer action concerns a young woman’s later confrontation of the aging abuser who left her stranded in a guest house years before, having deprived her of innocence and trust. The scene is set in the seedy lunch room of his workplace, significantly littered with throwaway trash.

Initially she is angry, he defensive, both jittery. Gradually the back story is revealed of their meeting and of events leading to the night she is abandoned. He has served his sentence, she has been living it ever since. There are no easy answers for either of them. Their perilous shifts from anger to violence to desire are handled with startling intensity, the final slam of the door bringing the sort of temporary relief one might feel walking away from an unresolved argument.

For Una ( Mel Dodge) and Ray (John Bach) the stakes are high. Such is the tension created by the circumstances that no second of stage time passes without their interaction and response to each other being under scrutiny.

As Una, Mel Dodge is a newcomer to The Court, though no stranger to adventurous theatre. From uneasy awkwardness in her opening encounter with Ray, where the rocking from high heel to high heel is distracting to the point of irritation, she builds a vulnerable but dangerous character, who is as much predator as victim.

John Bach is a fine actor whose performance in this testing role is a triumph. He is by turns defensive, assertive, remorseful, even tender, but ultimately the biggest question mark of all hangs over Ray.

It would be something of a spoiler to describe the ending of the play. Enough to say that the pity of it all confirms that horror and humanity are never as far apart as we might wish and pretend. As for the title, the image of darkness is all there.


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