Sexual assault is an ongoing social issue, particularly in a college environment, as is the victim blaming and sexism that so often surrounds rape. In light of this, International House’s choice to perform Blackrock, which explores the aftermath of the rape and murder of a teenage girl, is both bold and commendable. Directed by Holly Nugent, the production was as gripping as it was thought provoking.
On the whole, the cast performed solidly, and their emotive performances contributed most significantly to the play’s success. Hamish Plaggemars is to be commended on his performance as Ricko, successfully portraying him as likeable larrikin who reveals a darker side as the play goes on. His performance allowed some of the play’s most important issues to be explored, such as the idea of ‘mateship’ and loyalty among boys. Lily-Rose Palmer, as Cherie, also delivered a strong performance, successfully bringing both emotion and energy where the play demanded it. Some of the most formidable performances, however, were delivered by minor characters. Aqilah Abdeen, as Marian, was excellent in her short time on stage. She engaged with the other performers naturally, whilst displaying a level of comfort on stage that was severely lacking in the majority of the cast. Similarly, Cosette Boland, as Shana, brought energy and charisma to the play, despite her limited appearances. Even without dialogue or speech, she portrayed her character impressively.
Despite these strong performances, there was a real problem with movement on the stage. While there were some good moments, such as Cherie’s confrontation with her mother, on the whole the actor’s movement felt stunted and unnatural. The actors seemed uneasy with standing still and yet they also seemed unsure of how they should move when delivering and receiving lines. This perhaps required further blocking or experimentation within scenes. Furthermore, most of the actors did not seem to be comfortable with each other physically. A play set in an atmosphere of such high emotion demands an equally high level of physicality, however, there were many moments when the actors seemed unsure of how to touch each other, or uncomfortable doing so. This led to stunted movement, characters talking too far away from one another and gestures that were meant to be intimate becoming awkward.
The costume design, by Claire Hannon, worked well, firmly locating the play both geographically and temporally. Similarly, the sound design, by Chad Dickens, was formidable, contributing to the play’s setting as well as bringing the first and final scenes together with the sound of waves. However, the play’s lighting was not as strong. Blackouts occurred too frequently, with full blackouts occasionally bookending scenes that only lasted for fifteen seconds. This acted like an energy vacuum, diminishing the lasting effect that high-tension scenes can have on their audience. Furthermore, mid-scene lighting changes often left half the set, and part of the scene, in darkness. This sharp change was stunting for the audience, as it drew attention away from the play’s action and essentially cut the scene in half for no apparent reason. It would have been more successful to keep blackouts to a minimum, and generally keep the lighting steady during scenes.
On the whole, International House’s Blackrock was an entertaining and disturbing production. With an overall strong cast, International House proved that Blackrock is as relevant today as it was at the time of its conception, over twenty years ago. With sexual assault an ongoing issue, and one particularly pertinent to colleges, it is a story that must continue to be told.
International House’s production of Blackrock ran from September 1st-3rd in the Guild Theatre.