Directed by Kim Hardwick
White Box Theatre
Corner of City Road and Cleveland Street, Chippendale
Season: 9 - 25 March
Blackrock is a play by Nick Enright inspired by real life events in 1989 in an East coast beach town in Australia, where a 14-year-old girl, Leigh Leigh, was brutally raped by a group of boys at a party and then murdered by an 18-year-old boy. It’s important to emphasise that the play is based on a true story so that we aren’t tempted to relegate the production to the realm of fiction, distancing ourselves from the culture that gave away to Leigh Leigh’s rape and murder, as well as the rape of thousands of girls and women, and the documented killing of 72 women in Australia in 2016 alone (Reference: Counting Dead Women Australia researchers of Destroy the Joint). This is the context in which this play does and must resonate.
Kim Hardwick’s production of the play succeeds poignantly in some areas, and misses the mark in others. As the play initially unfolds, some of the actors seem caught between using their full and enunciating ‘theatre voices’, and creating the impression of coastal Australia and the personalities they are depicting. It strikes me as artifice as the actors try to convince the audience that they are ‘real people’ with inconsistent ocker accents and sexualised gestures to flourish at every opportunity. The party scene lacks some oomph, with glow stick bracelets and half-hearted dancing, and likely wouldn’t connect strongly with young audiences – or maybe parties often look a bit awkward like that from the outside looking in. Regardless, here lies a tension between the theatre sphere and real life, begging the broader question of theatre’s ability to bring the world to the stage, when only certain types of people are included in its creation. In saying this, Joshua McElroy gives an excellent performance as Scott Abbey, a Blackrock local, propelling himself into the character in a way that is both believable and highly engaging. It requires a great boldness to allow yourself as an actor to access the abominable depths of a character, that which is outwardly vehemently rejected by society. Victims are paraded and put on show while perpetrators are protected and hidden. He puts it out there for all to see.
This production succeeds in capturing the culture and language that culminates in the devastation that is the centre of the play. We can see that while girls and women are the obvious victims of this culture, the patriarchy that idolises vulgar hyper-masculinity makes losers of us all – even if some men and boys feel like champions for a while. Enright’s erasure of Tracy’s physical presence and voice is questionable in this play, choosing instead to privilege the voices of perpetrators and her friends. I think it aims to slightly universalise the circumstances (if that can be achieved given the strong geographical setting of the piece), and it also does shed valuable insight into the conflicted nature of the perpetrators rather than framing them as one-dimensional villains.
There is a powerful scene that illustrates the fragile borderline between consensual closeness and violent assault that when crossed, results in a sickening shudder among the audience – we know how easily that trust can be broken. It takes place between Rachel, played by Tessa James, and her boyfriend Jared, played by Gautier Pavlovic-Hobba, who is grappling with whether to inform the police of what he saw at the party – 3 of his friends raping Tracy, who is now dead. Rachel’s tender choices to refrain from or embrace physical closeness with Jared in the scene are savagely undermined by his decision to do what he wants with her, disregarding what she wants. Hardwick’s direction in this scene unsettles and packs a punch. Some of the actors also manage to tap into an almost animalistic experience of grief, shown pointedly by Sam Delich as Ricko and Lucy Heffernan as Cherie in their respective speeches. I think Hardwick has a skill for fostering an access into this severe emotional crevasse in her actors and it is these experiences for an audience that resound with truth.
Ultimately, this show engages and affects its audience, beginning invaluable dialogue after the actors have taken their bows. I felt deeply upset at the show’s close. An emotional response is important because the evocation of rage or grieving of our nation’s corrupted culture might be the only way to start conversations and make palpable change – by shifting the language we use and the behaviour we celebrate, by shifting the way we respond when sexual violence does occur, and by intentionally shifting our education of young kids knowing that resting with the status quo is, in itself, a perpetuation and condoning of sexual violence in our culture. This production might be a piece in instigating and hopefully continuing a systematic change that we as a society desperately, achingly need.