Reviewing Blackrock by La Boîte Theatre Company was never going to be an easy task. Now something of an Australian theatre classic, it examines the social impulse to violence within Australian culture by delving into the aftermath of a young girl’s rape and murder during an underage party at a beachside town called Blackrock.
Written by the late Nick Enright (The Boy from Oz, Lorenzo’s Oil), and based loosely (some might say tightly) on the death of Newcastle school girl Leigh Leigh in 1989, it began life as a much shorter educational piece aimed at high school children called A Property of the Clan (1992). By opting not to depict the actual crime, Enright ensured the play remained wholly focused on the ramifications of alcohol-fueled violence and mateship within the victim’s peer group. After receiving critical acclaim, Sydney Theatre Company commissioned Enright to develop the script into a full length play to suit wider audiences, hence Blackrock (1995). The longer format allowed Enright to explore additional perspectives, such as those of the parents, however it also fundamentally changed the focus. Blackrock became a play about men as victims of the society they live in, rather than motives for rape. Even the title diluted the play’s shock value, as the focus shifted from the pack-like mentality of men to how environment and social standing affects human nature.
This new production of Blackrock, a collaboration between La Boîte Theatre Company and Queensland University of Technology Creative Industries, is mostly faithful to that legacy, with only minor adjustments made to incorporate new technologies and changes in fashion (denim cut off shorts will be the death of me). Under the direction of Todd MacDonald (CEO and Artistic Director of La Boîte), the staging is simple but effective, allowing the actors – primarily final year acting students alongside an ensemble of professional actors – to fully command the audience’s attention. Which they do; the cast is exceptional. The fort-like construction of the set cleverly contains movement and, along with the choreography, subtle lighting effects and well chosen soundtrack, adds to the play’s repressive tension. Technically, this is an excellent show.
Yet…oh, I don’t know. Blackrock left me feeling flat. Much of what I saw onstage reminded me of growing up on the Gold Coast 25 years ago, with the same aggressive surfie dickheads and entrenched male/female social roles. Has nothing changed since then? How thoroughly depressing, if that’s the case. I found myself silently willing the females to revolt in anger at the depravity of the crime, yet the only character to even come close to a feminist uprising was that of the sister whose brother is questioned by police for being part of the gang rape. Her horror at his involvement, and then at her parents’ primary concern resting with keeping their son out of jail rather than his culpability, is the lone outraged voice amongst the malaise overwhelming the rest of the characters. I’m not sure whether its frustration or disappointment that I felt at yet another portrayal of women resigned to their fate.
I want to believe what I’ve read about Blackrock saving lives with the messages it carries, but I don’t. Perhaps in its original incarnation, as a piece of educational theatre, there was half a chance something would resonate with impressionable young minds. But as a full length production, played for an audience like La Boîte’s, I can’t help thinking they’re preaching to the converted. I understand that by focussing on the why and how of the crime, we might gain greater awareness of how we can prevent more men from becoming predators. And I really do understand that we need to find avenues for men to feel comfortable expressing their emotions and discussing serious social issues if we are to get any further ahead. But when more attention is paid to how the boys have ruined their futures than to how they stripped a young girl of a future at all, then we have a big problem. In 2017, with statistics showing one in three women has experienced physical violence since the age of fifteen, we need victims to believe that it is their voice above all others that deserves to be heard.
The following quote by Tara Moss appears ahead of the Director’s introduction in the Blackrock program:
“Every time we write about survivors of crime “confessing” they have been attacked, every time we erase the woman who was murdered, every time we call rape “sex” and we mute the experiences of survivors, and every time we victim blame, we do the public an injustice, because we miss a real opportunity to inform, and instead we further cement damaging social attitudes that minimise, excuse or ignore the hard reality of violence. And we teach survivors that they should think twice before speaking out. We teach them that their voices are not valued”
By focussing so hard on the male voice, Blackrock misses that opportunity too.
Blackrock, a La Boite and QUT Creative Industries production
At the Roundhouse Theatre until 12 August 2017
Click here for more details
Photography: Dylan Evans