Theatre review: Blackbird, Heart Of Hawick

Kudos to the Borders-based Firebrand theatre company, whose rediscovery of classic Scottish plays hasn’t seen them shy away from difficult work.

Borders-based Firebrand theatre company's take on David Harrowers now-classic 2005 play
Borders-based Firebrand theatre company's take on David Harrowers now-classic 2005 play

Blackbird - Heart Of Hawick

* * * *

Here, the subject’s about as distasteful as they come, but director Richard Baron’s (mostly) two-handed production preserves the depth of uncertain humanity and emotional texture inherent in David Harrower’s now-classic 2005 investigation into paedophilia.

In an upstairs meeting room strewn with unhealthy levels of old rubbish which – with heavy symbolism – no-one has managed to clear up in a long time, harassed, middle-aged office worker Ray “welcomes” the much younger Una, whom it emerges through a puzzle box process of layer-peeling that Ray had a sexual relationship with when he was 40 and she was 12.

Now, 15 years on, she has tracked him down to a new identity through chance, and the tone of the pair’s discussion is neatly ambiguous and cliché-shredding. Is he a monster? Was she a manipulative Lolita? Did the pair simply create a perfect storm of inappropriate lust?

Baron’s direction is assured enough to take the audience to the brink of believing Ray is a misguided innocent, before drip-feeding details of Una’s current mental health and an uncomfortable revelation about his current situation to shred any ambiguity about the cruel and selfish danger of toying with the emotions of one too young to process them.

Greg Wagland gives a strong performance, if a little distractingly full of pacing, nervous energy, and Romana Abercromby is great in a role which requires pathos, humour, vulnerability and wafer-thin sexual confidence. Its upcoming run at Edinburgh’s Summerhall is well worth visiting.

Seen on 21.02.14