‘Blackrock’ reviewed by Gordon the Optom

by May 2, 2014

‘Blackrock’, which was written by Australian playwright Nick Enright in 1992, was inspired and loosely based on the rape and murder of a 14-year-old schoolgirl, Leigh Leigh, in Stockton NSW three years earlier. The student’s real name was Leigh Rennea Mears, but called ‘Tracy’ in the cinema film. However, as this was almost the same as Leigh’s cousin’s name, and so on the insistence of Leigh’s family, the acting part was removed from the stage play. This play started life as ‘A Property of the Clan’, a practise piece for Enright’s Newcastle students. It was picked up by NIDA in 1993, then developed and transformed into ‘Blackrock’ over the next two years. In 1996, it won an AWGIE Award for Best Play.

The Revellers are performing this heavy-duty play to audiences of all age groups. Because of the wonderful character studies, this 100-minute play is on the schools’ set book list for this year. It is being performed at the Murdoch University Drama Workshop, off car park 4 in Murdoch University, 90 South Street. The performances commence at 8.00 pm on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights until the 10th May.

 

The scene is a fictional, Australian, working-class suburban beach in November 1989. The set is totally black, with the word ‘Blackrock’ emblazoned in red on the rear wall. White milk crates depict rocks and larger boxes symbolise a jetty. The set is quite ‘loose’ as the scenes change from outside locations to house interiors in seconds throughout the play, but the neutral ambience works well (Set design and costumes Tiffany Banner).

         It is late evening and as Jared (Joshua Towns) is sitting looking out to sea, his cousin Cherie (Hayley Lyons), who has managed to escape from the overbearing supervision of her mother Glenys (Shannon Rogers), walks down the sand to join him. As they discuss next Saturday’s birthday party for their quiet friend, Toby (Jesse Williamson – convincing), Toby’s caring sister, Rachel (Catherine Parrish), appears on the scene. This is Jared’s wealthy girlfriend.

        The night of the party arrives, and as Jared is leaving home, he gets some maternal advice from his divorced, sick mother, Dianne Kirby (Tegan Evans). At the beach club, loud-mouthed surfing star and bully, Brett, generally known as Ricko (Andrew Dawson) immediately tries to pick on Toby, but sensing that those present want Toby to have a pleasant birthday, he eases off. Ricko is followed closely by a starry-eyed love, Shana (Kate Raine). Another girl, Tiffany (Dominique Evans) is mingling and trying to join in with the various groups, but seems to be rejected by most.

       As the young teenagers get into the grog and cones, the unsupervised fun turns to debauchery. Toby has sex with a young virgin, Tracy, in the sand dunes. His lovemaking was rapidly followed by violence at the hands of a couple of local yobs, Davo (Cat Perez) and Scott (Travis Hasson) looking for ‘easy meat’. Was Tracy at any point consenting? On the other hand, was she repeatedly raped? Jared saw the whole incident and having done nothing to save the young victim, is filled with guilt and keen to tell the police; however, his mother and overbearing father, Len Kirby (Dean Lovatt – excellent) are far more worried about the family’s reputation and being dragged into the investigation.

      Jared is now faced with a moral dilemma, either going against his parents’ wishes and doing the right thing by Tracy, or remaining silent and covering for his miserable friends who are carrying on regardless.

       Some of the girls try to bring things into the open but meet a brick wall.

 

Even though the above synopsis may seem to be filled with ‘spoilers’, the storyline for this play is fairly obvious from the start, so what it is really doing is demonstrating the numerous attitudes, morals and behaviour to be found in any small community. The direction called for plenty of pace and clear guidance as to the innate personality traits of each character, and Adam Dean – through being a very competent actor – has done a sterling job. He has captured the nasty undertones of the rapists, and has chosen a wonderful actress in Catherine Parrish, to show the compassionate side of the repercussions.

The intimate setting of this theatre allows the audience to be part of the surfing crowd, far better than the larger venues that I have experienced in the past. The director has created several entry points for the cast around the auditorium and at times had several in action. This helped build the tension very effectively. The cast were generally well above average, but one or two members found it difficult to be convincingly uncouth or display incredible anger, a skill that comes with time.

The lighting was designed by Adam Dean, Aleesha and Joey McKenna-Green. Multiple spotlights picked out the specific areas, thus keeping the action intimate. The quality sound was operated by Pippa Makin, and often called for accurate cuing. The Artistic Director, Andrew Kocsis created a very effective shrine and kept on top of the numerous exits and entrances from around the auditorium. Andrew is helping Revellers set up an acting training school in Kadidjiny Park Hall in Melville, to encourage anyone that fancies trying the theatre.

This is a very demanding play to present, but this team has given us an admirable night’s entertainment and plenty to think about when it comes to camaraderie versus decency.