Florence Bell attempts to find the meaning of Blackbird
Blackbird is an absurdist play. Absurdist plays are fine as long as they’re kept to under fifteen minutes. It’s when they get to longer than fifteen minutes that they become a problem. This show stretches out for far too long, the plot is transparent and the tech is patchy. It might be intentionally tricksy at points, but it’s also confused.
In fact, the whole play is so confused that it’s unclear what it’s an allegory for. I hope it is an allegory for something: if not, it’s basically an over-long children’s play with occasional swear words and gore. Effectively, Blackbird is Pinter meets children’s theatre.
You could probably read it as being about anything. To me the play seemed to be an allegory for an abusive relationship, but if Henry and Lily’s relationship is broken, why are they both portrayed in a relentlessly positive light? Their relationship is portrayed as loving throughout the whole show. This makes little sense if their relationship is fractured from the offset.
And if this isn’t the intended message of the show, it doesn’t matter because all the other problems are still problems. The humour of the show lies in wordplay that gets old very quickly. Occasional swearing doesn’t provide enough relief from the show’s sickly sweet childlike form. The entire narrative is one of the most heteronormative things I’ve ever seen. As soon as the structure of the show becomes clear it effectively becomes redundant. If this show had been half the length it still could have achieved everything it wanted to.
I genuinely do not understand the point in making the guise of the story so clouded that it becomes incomprehensible to the audience. There is no possibility of reading this simply as a show about a blackbird stealing people’s hands because there are weird Beckett-esque interludes. It’s clear that the blackbird is a cover, just unclear what for.
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Photo credit: Giulia Delprato