If you ever plan a trip to Edinburgh during the Fringe Festival, or any other time of the year, check out Summerhall.

As a venue that was once part of the Edinburgh University campus, it opened its doors in 2011 as a big ol’ arts and performance venue, and grows bigger and better by the day.

Blackbird, a renowned two-person show by David Harrower, returned to Summerhall in February of this year. It is one of those pieces that I term as a Marmite play on the premise that, regardless of human nature, Marmite can spilt a room down the middle.

Una (Romana Abercromby) tracks down Ray (Greg Wagland) without much of a plan as to what happens next. Dark humour (borderline obsidian) envelops them in the building’s break-room, reliving their time together over ten years ago.

2014. Richard Baron. Greg Wagland as ‘Ray and Romana Abercromby as ‘Una’. Firebrand Theatre Company.

The text itself takes the spectator and reader on a journey through the characters’, and their own, preconceptions and beliefs on pedophilia and the aftermath of such a relationship’s discovery.

Can either individual ever move forward?

Is their even a possibility of a rehabilitated pedophile?

Do they deserve a second chance?

If they receive one, do they deserve to keep it or have it taken away from them?

Endless questions. For some, it’s a black and white topic; for others it is far more complex. Fact is, however, it gets you thinking. And it doesn’t matter where you stand, this play will definitely have you swaying before bringing you back down to earth with reality.

The only snag I found with this particular staging lay in Una’s ability to keep Ray in the room. Former productions have emphasised the possibility of discovery. This staging had two moments where people banged on the doors to speak to Ray, but after that, it was just the two characters talking. The tension did build, but not as a result of external forces.

Speaking of people banging on the door…

On this particular night, someone became ill five-ten minutes into the play – the entire room was informed by the lady next to her in a loud whisper. You know the whisper: quiet enough to pass for not talking, but loud enough to be heard at talking level. A fuss was made and she tried to leave. She couldn’t open the door, so instead sat down until someone – the director – opened it for her. Seconds after she left, someone had their cue to bang on the door. Such an intimate space to backtrack on attending a show. Fair enough, when you’re ill, you’re ill, but surely if you’re that ill, you wouldn’t go…?

Una was beautifully played as someone emotionally stunted in growth. I was initially worried that the actor might not reach the intensity required of the piece, but I was pleasantly surprised. I’ve seen Abercromby twice before: the first in ‘The Guid Sisters (briefly touched on here) as a mute, wheelchair-bound elderly woman who liked to bite, and the second as Benedicte in ‘The Baroness‘ (prompting both this and the former entry). Personally, neither role was enough for me to go on. Her role as Una, however, was impressive. As for Ray, his character arch flowed from innocent to guilty and back again with ease, and a distinct air of Alan Rickman seemed to creep in from time to time. Either that or they just happen to share very similar facial expressions.

‘Blackbird’ at Summerhall

5 thoughts on “‘Blackbird’

  1. I’ve heard good things about Blackbird, though I’ve never seen it myself. I’ve always enjoyed plays/movies/books/etc that make you think about any topic in more than a black and white sense.

    1. I think it’s quite a popular one to do, Stateside. When I was looking up pictures of this particular production to include, I was surprised to see other actors I know of who played Ray, such as Bill Petersen (although that could just be because I’m an old-school CSI fan) and Jeff bloody Daniels. I’ve never seen Daniels do anything else other than the Dumb and Dumber franchise, so it’s hard for me to even take that concept seriously.

      It’s a strange one, but it’s good. Although I did get a lot of looks for having the audacity to laugh at some of the dark jokes. One of them is when the two start kissing, and he says stop, and Una replies with “What, am I too young for you now?” I thought it was funny, but if looks could kill…

      1. The Dumb and Dumber series is a terrible thing to base a perception of Daniels off of, as he’s a very talented serious actor. I strongly recommend looking at his work on The Newsroom or in God of Carnage. Dark jokes are my favorite jokes to laugh at…does that make me a terrible person?

      2. I feel pretty bad about it, and it actually took me a while to figure what it was I knew him from before it twigged.

        It does. And it doesn’t. But you should be ashamed. And you shouldn’t. I think being able to laugh at dark stuff makes life easier to live. But we can go through the 7 circles of Hell together, laughing at twisted shit on the way and feeling pretty good about it, because I know I certainly don’t feel bad 🙂


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