Maeve Fitzgerald and Declan Conlon in Blackbird. Image uncredited. *** Decadent Theatre Company. Arguably Ireland's foremost touring company. Bringing classics to every corner of the nation. As such, there are shows that fit their remit better than others. Shows with popular appeal, topical, with lots of edge, heart or humour. On paper David Harrower ’s award winning Blackbird from 2005 would seem an ideal fit. Given the Amber Heard/Johnny Depp case and #metoo, a play about a woman confronting the man who abused her as a child touches on topical issues. But Blackbird is not an issues play, it's about real people affected by those issue. The difference being you can rush through the bullet points of an issue, people need time to percolate, to be unsure, naive, and belligerent, to be manipulative and as messy as Owen McCarthaigh's set. Under Andrew Flynn’s hurried direction, such nuances are often given insufficient time to land, even as Flynn has all the ingredients to hand. But instead of a home cooked meal, succulent and rich as the recipe demands, Flynn serves up a fast food, processed equivalent. Releasing enough flavours to remind you of the meal you could've had. Built less on action so much as dialogue, Blackbird needs time to establish its rhythm, to allow subtext and subtleties emerge. But Flynn's hurried pace sees it getting off to a stumbling start, then forever trying to find its balance. Maeve Fitzgerald as Una, sounding like a whine in a pencil skirt, when she can be heard, becomes one toned from being rushed and constrained. Serving to set up Declan Conlon’s exasperated Ray, who pleads his case with convincingly unsettling ease, when he can be heard. Even those unfamiliar with the towering talents of Fitzgerald or Conlon can tell both have more in the pot they want to serve you, chomping at their hurried bits as restorative justice meets Stockholm syndrome. Even so, both craft truly disturbing and deeply human moments as honest, unvarnished questions get asked and answered. Maeve Fitzgerald and Declan Conlon in Blackbird. Image uncredited.
Owen McCarthaigh's design, looking like an office from the 1970s, enforces a sense of seediness seeping into everything that never goes away. Evocatively lit by Ciaran Bagnall, until the blackout. After which lighting goes awry, with Conlon and Fitzgerald frequently shadowed. Suggesting someone needs to adjust the lights, or else their marks. Compositionally, if Flynn's use of distance cranks up the end a fraction, it's bought at too big a price. More could have been played with in this regard, allowing greater intimacy and depths to be plumbed. Conlon and Fitzgerald still do enough to break your heart, but they could have shattered your soul to pieces. Yet Blackbird will still disturb those who like easy answers and tidy endings, being a brave and challenging production.
Blackbird by David Harrower, presented by Decadent Theatre Company, runs at The Gaiety Theatre till May 28 as part of a national tour before transferring to: Town Hall Theatre, Westport, Mayo – Wed 1 June Ballina Arts Centre, Mayo – Thu 2 Jun For more information, visit Decadent Theatre Company .