Blackbird is about the meeting, 15 years on, of Una and Ray. Gradually the nature of their relationship is revealed and you are left struggling with mixed feelings. Nothing is straightforward. The programme says the play is not about paedophilia: indeed it isn’t and the distinction between love and paedophilia is clearly made in the play, but it is about under-age sex. Ray is totally convincing when he talks about his love for Una but when a young girl comes in (his new partner’s daughter?) at the end of the play you cannot help but see how unacceptable and how selfish his behaviour was. He did take advantage of a young girl when he, as the adult, should have behaved like an adult. He went to prison and was badly treated as convicted paedophiles are, but then he was released and made a new life for himself with a new identity in a different place. Una, the 12-year-old, was left behind. She could not run away, could not hide behind a new name. There is no release for her and you realise that she cannot let go. She seems to have so much going for her – looks, personality, intelligence – but she is locked into this relationship and it has ruined her life.
It is strange to think that Harrower first wrote this play with 12 parts, because the power of the play is in the isolation of these two characters in their destructive relationship. This power is excellently portrayed by Robert Daws as the aging Ray, dragged unwillingly out of his safe new life into the past, and Dawn Steele as the nervous, permanently damaged Una. So many times actors seem to shout at you: these two actors commanded our attention with a whisper, a mutter, a gesture and when they did shout it was all the more effective.
First written for the 2005 Edinburgh Festival, Blackbird has been to New York and Sydney, has won the Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Play 2007 and is now on its first UK tour. It’s not a comfortable play to watch but it is a play you should not miss.