Review by Douglas Kennedy
Blackrock, playwright Nick Enright’s play about a teen party which culminates with a brutal rape and murder on the beach, was deeply disturbing when it was written 30 years ago.
Sadly many of the themes, which swirl around the narrative after the tragic event, still resonant today as Australia struggles with issues of domestic abuse, respect and gender equality.
Now Gold Coast Little Theatre director, Hunter Wall, has reinvented the contemporary classic for a new generation. The result is a powerful but relevant theatrical experience with a mostly young cast of compassionate actors.
Blackrock was originally adapted from a 45-minute piece by Enright, A Property of the Clan, that was inspired by the sexual assault and murder of 14-year-old Leigh Reannea Mears, also known as Leigh Leigh, near Newcastle in 1989. The award-winning play premiered in 1995, became a film in 1997, and was critically acclaimed despite protests from the family and others. There was concern that it was based on an actual murder, but Enright, who died in 2003 after a battle with cancer, always maintained it was a work of fiction.
Wall’s production, which runs for 90 minutes without an interval, is at times an explosive work which focuses on the teens – most of them still at school – and their distraught parents.
The attack happens during well-to-do Toby’s (Riley Thompson) 18th birthday celebrations down at the local surf club, where the alcohol flows freely and the boys display posturing expressions of sexual entitlement.
The scenes here move quickly as the party intensifies but hits an emotional brick wall the next morning when the hungover characters learn that 15-year-old Tracey has been raped and bashed to death with a rock. The reactions are mixed as the largely working class group show expression of denial and even victim blaming, while the parents struggle to protect their young. The boys seem largely out of sorts while the girls are more likely to grieve and suffer in the wake of their friend’s fate.
Blackrock has a cast of 12 – with some of the ensemble playing two and even three characters – but the principals who emerge are working class and surf loving Jared (Flynn Anderson), rebel without direction Ricko (Ethen Robinson), heartbroken guilt-ridden Cherrie (Sienna Cooper) and Toby’s more mature sister Rachel (Chole Smith).
Everyone copes in different ways with the tragic core of the drama, while still dealing with all the other concerns in their lives. For instance Jared’s mum Diana (Amy-Louise Anderson) has a major health issue while Toby and Rachel’s advertising executive dad Stewart (Jon Turley) is determined to protect his son at all costs.
The young actors really shine when the mood and the action reaches boiling point and performers Flynn Anderson and Ethan Robinson deserve a special mention for their fight choreography. The set, a simple sandy beach with a platform and what looks like a giant black rock as a backdrop, was designed by director Hunter Wall.
Blackrock has a large cast and production crew, who have obviously worked tirelessly to tell a story of a harrowing crime, which appears to be a enduring stain on Australia’s way of life.
The show carries a content warning covering coarse language, simulated violence, sexual violence and references to suicide. There’s also strobe lighting, theatrical haze and intense audio and visual effects.
Blackrock by Nick Enright. Directed by Hunter Wall
Gold Coast Little Theatre.
Booking www.gclt.com.au Phone: 07 55322096. Season ends July 21.
Soundscape Composer Ethan Wall.
Principal players Flynn Anderson, Ethan Robinson, Sienna Cooper, Chloe Smith.
Licensed exclusively by HLA Management Pty. Ltd.
Photos by TTL Photography.