In Blackrock, Nick Enright has created a truthful rendering of small, beach-town Australia; depicted in all its grittiness, testosterone and swallowed secrets. First performed in 1995, Blackrock has become a staple in Australian theatre studies, and the play’s relevance continues to be an indictment on our society. The play unabashedly tackles the difficult issues of inherent misogyny, hypocrisy, slut-shaming and grey areas. Perhaps most importantly, this play deals with the consequences of a culture that allows or ignores these problems.
The cast do a great job carrying the responsibility of dealing with such weighty issues. Overall, the boys embody their ocker, lad-like characters with gusto, bouncing about the stage with raw sexual energy and a clear portrayal of the pack mentality. During the post-show Q+A, the boys assured us that this persona was a complete departure from each of them in real life. I’m a little sceptical, though! Particularly in Sam Delich as Ricko, a certain stand-out. Delich is more than believable in his cocky, delinquent role, also managing to tug heart-strings in his sombre and grounded monologue. Guatier Pavlovic-Hobba brings depth to his role of Jared, a young man both conflicted and impressionable. Alex Packard is perfectly cast as young, eager- to-please Toby; it’s a relatively small part but Packard does a great job fleshing it out.
Enright writes his female characters with equal weighting to the boys; where we need to see the ugly workings of the ‘boy-pack’, the girls are, in contrast, demonstrative of maturity and empathy. Lucy Heffernon as Cherie is a standout in this way; she becomes a wonderfully matured woman by the end of the play.
Zoe Carides as Jared’s mother is brilliant. She embraces the natural Australianisms in her character’s voice and, where Enright’s underscoring runs the risk of turning his scenes into something resembling a soap-opera, Carides' understated presence works against the heightened dramatics; she is wonderfully nuanced and filmic in her performance.
Isabel Hudson’s set design is a clever one. The decision to place a literal black rock in the centre of the stage, surrounded by sand, grants an consistent atmosphere of the Novocastrian, coastal town. Bravely, Kim Hardwick’s choice to leave cast on stage even when they weren’t performing, while textbook Brecht, worked well. It gave each character a degree of complicity in the horror that unfolds on stage, which seems to be entirely Enright’s point in writing this play. In these small coastal towns, someone is always watching. Backlighting was used to breathtaking effect, and sound and music was deployed to enhance the telling of the story. The entire show had the air of professionalism, and was due in no small part to the work of lighting designer Martin Kinnane.
Without diminishing the efforts of the designers, decisions of design were likely a result of director Kim Hardwick’s good taste. Hardwick obviously had a strong vision for the show, and has chosen a strong cast to support it. Some scenes felt a little under-directed, however, and in some instances, the action happened all too fast. The final two scenes of the play are lengthy, but the decision to plough through them was probably the wrong one. It felt as though the production was apologising for its length, and as a result, where the first half of the show was laced with subtlety, the back end felt somewhat ham-fisted.
Blackrock is a good play. It is a story that provides insight into multiple characters, and indeed a culture, which is a pretty rare gift for actors and audiences alike.