Image courtesy of Bedlam Theatre
Blackbird tells a poignant and powerful story of a 12-year-old girl Una (Sophia Dowson-Collins) whom a 40-year-old man Ray (Benjamin Aluwihare) has abused. Set in the present day, 15 years later, the victim comes to find the perpetrator having found a photo that revokes many memories. In choosing such weighty subject matter, Bedlam bravely presents a mature production that delicately grapples with sexual abuse.
The play has only one setting throughout: the office where Ray works. Tarpaulin at the back of the scene separates the two actors form the extras, a stylistic decision similar to Bedlam’s production of Pillowman back in February. Dressed as office workers, these extras used physical theatre and interpretive dance to reflect the characters’ state of mind. Furthering these stylistic decisions, sound effects were employed throughout, such as a blackbird’s cry: evocative of the show’s title.
Collins and Aluwihare are cast well alongside each other, effectively conveying the tragedy. These are characters whose turmoil develops in magnitude as the play progresses. Ray’s mannerisms at first seem like those racked with guilt, tormented by the past, though it is not until the play develops that we see just how broken his life is. Meanwhile, Una initially appears to maintain control over the situation yet, as things unfold, the reality of her experiences shine through.
Particularly hard hitting is Una’s dramatic monologue, exposing the complexities of this situation. In this moment Collins conveys her multifaceted character with great skill whilst simultaneously tackling difficult issues surrounding age, love and abuse. The love she feels for him prevents the course of justice. In this way Bedlam did what many art forms set out to achieve – confronting risky subject matter in the name of informing viewers.
The symbolic use of props cleverly works in conjunction with the action. Litter, for example, is initially claimed by Ray to be the fault of his co-workers. As the play unfolds it transpires that the debris is mess made by him alone. This use of symbolism alludes to the true depth of his mental struggle. Another example of this symbolic use of the set might be the chairs, both used in scenes of violence and affection.
This was a play of increasingly challenging content, a hugely brave choice for first time director William Byam Shaw. The cast and production team tackle it head on, with no intention of glazing over the disturbing details. Powerfully acted and extremely harrowing, this play delivered with its weighty subject matter and highlighted, once again, that Bedlam is worthy of recognition far beyond its level.