Scottish playwright David Harrower has often been labelled an exponent of “in-yer-face theatre,” a style of drama that emerged in 1990s Great Britain feature narratives unabashedly crafted to shock. Harrower’s Blackbird, on now at the Vancity Culture Lab at the Cultch (a well-designed and much-needed intimate new venue) easily falls in with this style. The one-act play pits the young, volatile Una (Jennifer Mawhinney) against the middle-aged Peter (Russell Roberts). Over the course of 100 minutes, they pick over the remnants of their ruinous sexual relationship, back when Una was just 12 years old.
Appearing out of the blue at his workplace one day, Una confronts Peter (who, having served his jail time, has changed his name from Ray) about the past. Facing each other for the first time in 15 years, there are land mines aplenty to navigate. Accusations and sad recriminations skim the surface of lingering lust, long-buried secrets, and the inevitable ‘ick’ factor of the incredulous question: Was it misunderstood love, or abuse?
Mawhinney’s characterization of Una seems drawn from a display case of standard damaged-goods affectations: lots of hair-twisting, face-scrunching, and bouts of overt sensuality offset by episodes of childlike naïvete. Mawhinney only shows what she’s capable of when she drops the victim’s-whisper delivery and gives Una the necessary depth to move from Lolita-esque caricature to traumatized, complex young woman.
Roberts’s role is the less showy of the two, and though he makes his contrite Peter somewhat sympathetic, the character’s inherently treacherous nature ensures nothing more than a lukewarm reception from the audience. Unfortunately, this is symptomatic of the entire production: Blackbird should, by its very nature, resonate, but this production ultimately proves relatively forgettable, and a far cry from in-yer-face.