‘Blackrock’ reviewed by Gordon the Optom

by October 4, 2018

‘Blackrock’ was written by Australian playwright Nick Enright in 1992. It was inspired and loosely based on the rape and murder of Leigh, a 14-year-old schoolgirl in Stockton NSW. This play started life as ‘A Property of the Clan’, written a practise piece for Enright’s Newcastle Uni students. Soon it was picked up by NIDA and developed into ‘Blackrock’.

Because of its wonderful character studies, in 1996 the full version of ‘Blackrock’ won Enright an AWGIE Award for ‘Best Play’. It now appears regularly in the final year’s schools’ set book list.

This Theatre Arts at Curtin co-production with the Hayman Theatre Company are presenting the Curtin Theatre students in this heavy-duty play to audiences of all age groups. The 70-minute play is now being performed at the Hayman Theatre, in Building 302, opposite the second entrance to car park 9, Curtin University, off Manning Road in Bentley. The performances commence at 7.00 pm on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights until the 6th October.

 

The scene: is a fictional, Australian working-class, suburban beach in November 1989.

The set: was designed by Rhiannon Walker, and assisted in its creation by John Congear. The rear wall of the stage is totally black. Sand is painted onto the black floor. The word ‘Blackrock SLSC’ is emblazoned on side of the proscenium arch. Well-weathered driftwood formed broken fences and steps leading onto the old wooden jetty. A huge grey ‘rock’ (difficult to create but convincing) is in the foreground, centre stage.

The props varied from the sublime radios and beer cans, to the ridiculous fun prop for Rocko. Well done Tim Lorian and Natasha Weir.

The sound was designed and operated by Isaac Willis. The lighting was designed by Claire Cockell and operated by Nelson Fannon. By clever use of the spotlights, specific areas were picked out, thus keeping the action intimate and eliminating the need for scene shifters.

The stage manager, Rebecca Penn was ably assisted by her ASM, Gabriella Munro. The production manager was Ellis Kinnear.

         It is late in the evening, and as Jared Kirby (Sam Addison – powerful) is looking out to sea, his cousin Cherie (Amber Gilmour), who has managed to escape from her overbearing Mum, Glenys (Kiri Siva), walks down to the sand to join him. As they discuss next Saturday’s birthday party for their introverted friend, Toby Ackland (Jaron Herren), Toby’s caring sister, Rachel (Ashlyn Burley – touching) appears on the scene.

       The night of the party arrives, and as Jared is leaving home, he gets some maternal ‘be careful’ advice from his sick, divorced mother, Dianne Kirby (Molly Earnshaw). At the beach club, a loud-mouthed surfing star and bully, Brett, generally known as Ricko (Max Gipson – very good) 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 his beautiful, starry-eyed love, Shana (Shona Schütz). Another girl, Tiffany (Pauline Rosman) 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 (Taylor ‘Mutta’ Beilby) and Scotty (Liam Borbas) looking for ‘easy meat’.

     When Tracy was found dead on the sand, many questions arose. Was Tracy repeatedly raped? Or was she at any point consenting? However, Jared saw the whole incident and having done nothing to save the young victim, is filled with guilt and keen to tell the police. His mother and overbearing father, boxing trainer, Mr Kirby (Calum Christie) are far more worried about the family’s reputation and being dragged into the investigation.

     Likewise, when the detective (Thomas Bach) arrives to interview Toby, his protective parents, Mr Ackland (Callan Hodge) and Mrs Ackland (Emily Semple) are far more worried about Toby being dragged into the turmoil than the poor dead girl.

The ensemble included Roy (Travis Koch) and Gary (Tim Lorian).

 

Even though the above synopsis contains ‘spoilers’, the storyline for this play is fairly obvious from the start, but it is mainly concerned with demonstrating the numerous attitudes, morals and behaviour to be found in any small community.

Costumes designer was Kiri Siva and the wardrobe assistants, Kailea Porter and Imogen Rabbitte.

The most realistic stage combat was supervised by WA’s best fight instructor, Andy Fraser.

The drama called for plenty of pace, and with such a prominent, and award winning Western Australian director, Emily McLean at the helm, the play rocked. At times there were several, simultaneous points of action, and so the director fully employed the four entrance / exit points on the stage, and the two auditorium aisles. With such an intimate theatre setting, the tension built very effectively, and with the audience ‘in the round’ they soon became part of the surfing crowd and the party.

The word perfect cast had obviously received clear direction and guidance as to the innate personality traits of each character; however, with a relatively inexperienced cast, and a first class director, one often finds that the talent skills polarise. The good get much better and the odd, weaker performer – well – should we say gets weaker?

This is a very demanding play to present by requiring anger, violence, modesty, exhibitionism, shame and blatant, male machismo; but this team rose to the occasion, and gave us an admirable night’s entertainment, with plenty to think about when it comes to camaraderie versus decency.

‘Blackrock’ has become a piece that demands an explanation as to why any adolescent boy would harm a girl and the potential danger for the future. It is a critique of the limitations of Australian gender stereotypes and a snapshot of the schisms that class creates in our society.

The students asked me to acknowledge the huge amount of help from course administrator, Leigh Brennan.

In the past decade I have seen three production of this play, and this was the most impressive.