Take these broken wings

10 April 2017

A fragmented script holds Blackbird back from being the kind of twisted tale that Emily Davis usually loves

Blackbird should have been My Thing, but it just wasn’t.

I love fairy stories. I love dark, twisted tales, surreal folklore and warped magic.

I thought I would love Blackbird, and yet I did not.

The concept was very strong, mysterious, slightly twisted and funny to boot. A mysterious Blackbird who steals people’s hands in order to play a piano that will enchant the world. The course of the plot saw characters taking the Blackbird’s side, while its victims struggle to connect with each other and live their own lives. It had all the makings of a very interesting and entertaining play, with a lot of emotional weight.

However, the whole thing felt very fragmented. Rather than any flaw in the production or the performances, the fault lay in the script itself, which favoured repetition and a kind of stumbling, strained tone of conversation. Every single section of dialogue was some kind of conflict, and as such it was very frustrating to watch. The characters argued about the laws of the world, the progress of the narrative, who they were as characters. This made for a show that felt rather like it was the result of an improv exercise, but where the rule was “say no” rather than “say yes”. The main emotional punch of the show came from the characters conveniently forgetting that they were married to each other, which struck me as a bit of a plot hole. 

This is not to criticise the individuals in their performances. Jack Solloway as Henry reminded me excessively of Gregor Samsa from Kafka’s Metamorphosis, perhaps intentionally. Lindsay Mannion as Lily and Jordan Mayers as the Doctor were particularly strong, with the latter providing some well needed gravitas to a very scattered script. 

The staging was also very compelling; the constant presence of a masked figure playing the piano at interludes throughout the show was a strong central image. Emily Compton’s playing of composer Olivia Doust’s music was a particular highlight of the show. I did also enjoy the fact that the ensemble sat among the audience wearing masks, and that the two protagonists had to physically compel them to enter the story on occasion. I don’t know why, but the eccentric and volatile waiter becoming Henry’s ally at the denouement of the show was a very tender moment. 

I’m usually a staunch opponent of insisting that theatre has to SAY SOMETHING and have a MESSAGE, but it was something I really struggled with while watching Blackbird. It lacked a thread of logic for the audience to cling on to, and I couldn’t help but think, what do they want me to feel here? What are they trying to do?

Ultimately, this play could be very good. But it needs a dramaturg like I need a coffee right now. 

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Photo credit: Giulia Delprato