Sunday 28 July 2019

Blackrock review

It's been over two decades since Nick Enright's Blackrock was first performed, which explored the fallout in a beachside town after a teenager is brutally gang raped and murdered. Sadly these crimes have become a common occurrence in Australia, and EbbFlow Theatre Co.'s production is a timely reminder as to how little has changed in attitudes to violence against women. 

Whereas Enright's play focuses predominantly on the men and themes around loyalty and mateship, director Nicola Bowman ensures that time is provided to the women of Blackrock and that their voices are heard. Ordinarily this would give a new perspective to the source text but in this instance the majority of female characters are all angry and disgusted by what has happened and while they are completely justified in this, it does not allow for any dramatic tension and many of its teenage characters blend into one.

What is also disappointing is that pivotal moments are not shown on stage or feel rushed, such as Ricko's (Jayden Popik) eventual fate, so once more that dramatic element is missed. Including these scenes or providing time for them to grow and removing those that don't add anything to the overall story would draw us in and have the characters be seen in a different light. 

This leads to the psychological impact of how this crime affects the lives of the residents to never go beyond the superficial as scenes play out without consideration to what's happened nor building towards what is to come. Jared's (Karl Richmond) initial response to Tracey's death is to shrug his shoulders and go back to bed but when we later learn the truth, it seems incredibly unlikely that his reaction would have been so nonchalant. It results in characters often being presented as a type, with Davo and Scott (Callum Mackay and Henry O'Brien) resembling something that belongs in the Dumb and Dumber universe. They are obnoxious, loud and ignorant the entire time and their narrative is not clearly resolved. A nuanced approach to the performances with a deeper understanding of what these characters would be experiencing and how to depict this is required so that we don't have to rely on screaming or shouting to convey what they are going through. 

Bowman shows great ability however in bringing to the surface the idea of what a good man actually is. At one point, Jared gets told by Tiffany (Sophie Stewart) that he is a good guy, and throughout the show we may feel sorry for Jared, and maybe even like him, but Bowman highlights how you're not a good man simply because you don't rape or murder women. If you turn a blind eye to someone getting raped, trivialise it or even not object to someone making a rape joke, like Jared does to certain degrees, then you are part of the problem. 
The set design by Jac Antcliff is too industrial to represent a beach vibe setting. The cast may be wearing shorts, singlets and wetsuits but the scaffolding set and large barrels that are used denote a locale more suited to a factory or manufacturing environment. Incorporating a soundscape of the beach or waves crashing could have worked well in creating this beach town on stage and having the beach become a character of the play. 

Blackrock is a complicated story with many themes to cover, including gender equality, classism and toxic masculinity. With EbbFlow Theatre Co.'s production, the narrative structure and character development need to be reworked depending on what exactly the company wants to explore so its audience can connect with and reflect on this message. 

Venue: St. Martins Youth Arts Centre, 28 St. Martins Ln, South Yarra.
Season: until 3 August | Wed - Mon 7:30pm
Tickets: $35 Full | $32 Conc
Bookings: EbbFLow Theatre Co. 

Image Credit: Dean Robinson

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