I felt like it had been long enough since Year 11 drama teachers had gushed about this play to exhaustion: seeing it, producing it, acting in it, meeting Writer Nick Enright once – such is its force in the Australian performance scene.
So, having forgotten about it for a while, I came to this production fresh and keen. This was an understated play at the Seymour Centre, but not the lesser for it.
The set and costumes were fine, appropriate, and the stage was small. Nothing particularly was made of its smallness, but it was a space that served as ‘anywhere’, which left a lot of work for the actors to evoke place and temporal shifts. Australian towns are small; I think perhaps this cramped feeling was reminiscent of the setting, with everyone seemingly on top of each other, "up each other's *rse", as a ‘Blackrock’ character would say.
Long revered as one of our best studies of the type of masculinity that brews in a brutal, outdoor culture, ‘Blackrock’ concerns the rape and murder of schoolgirl Tracy Warner after a party near the beach in small town Australia. Tensions mount as police investigate the local community.
The whole play, in essence, seemed to be a stand-off between the genders; men and boys negotiating boundaries with women and girls who seem to carry the pressure and blame for all the sexual energy – they are either frigid or sluts, depending on their actions. The production explored all these themes well and is quite well cast.
Obviously, it is tempting to play what Australians call ‘bogans’ as caricatures – and stereotypes do exist for a reason. Each actor, to their credit, seemed to draw on this but also find nuance and range in their character. Lucy Heffernan was strong as local girl Cherie, who is responsible for conveying most of the outright grief in the play; Cherie is the only character who really ‘feels’, while others swallow their grief or lash out.
Sam Delich was memorable as Ricko. His portrayal of the fragility of macho leadership, and the dangerous places it can lead, was thoroughly convincing, accent and all. Gautier Pavlovic-Hobba had to carry the arc of ‘Blackrock’ as the conflicted Jared. Jared is the sensitive guy stuck in a macho world and Pavlovic-Hobba brought tension to the role; he evoked curiosity in the audience, about the character, about him.
Jared's choices are only subtle shifts, changes in alliance, changes in self expression between right and wrong, but they were noticeably the point of the dramatic action, which is to Pavlovic-Hobba's credit. It was hard to tell if he was a preppy drama student or a real surfer up from the coast, which was glorious.
Kim Hardwick, as Director, did not offer huge re-interpretation of this Australian classic, but didn't need to. She picked a strong cast, who managed to recreate a pertinent sense of place and identity. She moved the audience and probably reminded them that not everyone in this country is an inner-city theatre-goer.
There was dignity in the room, and never encouragement to judge. That is to Hardwick's credit, and, of course, Nick Enright's.
'Blackrock' plays at Seymour Centre until 25 March.