A tough but compelling night

Blackbird: David Harrower, Cambridge Arts Theatre until Saturday April 19 David Harrower's award-winning play traces a raw, unsettling course around one of society's great taboo areas, child abuse.

Ivan Howlett

Blackbird: David Harrower, Cambridge Arts Theatre until Saturday April 19

David Harrower's award-winning play traces a raw, unsettling course around one of society's great taboo areas, child abuse. It deals with the emotional consequences of a sexual relationship between a 40 year old man and a seriously under-age girl.

In a tense 90-minutre drama, Una - now 27 - has tracked down the man, Ray (played by Robert Daws) who put her life on hold. She's found him at the factory where he works and where, with a changed name, no one knows about his past.


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Fifteen years previously, when Una (played by Dawn Steele) was twelve, he'd taken her off to a seaside hotel. It's not an unfamiliar news story. Her disappearance had made the headlines. When the whole thing fell apart, Una was 'found safe and well'. Ray was arrested, tried and jailed.

When Una turns up, Ray can't tell what she wants and perhaps Una doesn't know either. Everything in her life has been tainted by that experience. She could be after revenge. Perhaps she just wants to see what sort of man it was with whom she had become involved.

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Her recollections were that of a twelve year-old, filtered through the comments of parents, police, doctors and lawyers, one of whom had described her as having 'unhealthy adult leanings'.

After the initial shock fear, anger and shouting, they begin to talk. They tell the story, each filling in details the other didn't know about the relationship that had paralysed both their lives. Playwright David Harrower maps it out carefully, swinging our sympathies one way and then the other.

Both, even now, claim they were in love. He says that he had done nothing like it before or since. However, what he did was unquestionably wrong, illegal, and criminal. For that he had received a punishment. But, as Una, points out, the victim has to live with the irreparable damage.

There is unfinished business for both of them. It's explosive, emotional stuff, physically and passionately played on Jonathan Fensom's rubbish-strewn canteen locker-room set. Director David Grindley gets the best from his two actors. Robert Daws has long made an art of combining ordinariness with anger, spite, guilt, fear, and pathos - whatever he wants to pull out of his acting drawer. Dawn Steele (Lexie in Monarch of the Glen) is in turns, vulnerable, seductive, bitter, coarse and pathetic.

A night of compelling theatre.

Ivan Howlett

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