Tragedy pervades the working-class suburb of Blackrock in a play that highlights centuries of misogyny still discernible today. Nick Enright’s writing, based on a true story, provides a galvanising look at Australian culture, in the way only live theatre can.
Blackrock tells the story of a small coastal town ripped apart after the violent rape and murder of a 15-year-old girl named Tracey. It explores harmful gender stereotypes and the generational sexism that is passed down from parents to children. The language is crude, with moments of absolute clarity that pierce; “Toby’s got a dick. That’s the difference”, says one of the girls, Rachel.
The sexual assault is protected among friends and family. One family grapples with the possibility of their son going to jail-doing whatever is required to keep their child walking free; “We’re not interested in guilt or shame or political correctness.”
The characters are forced to question their own accountability. Who is really responsible for Tracey’s death? The three boys who raped the 15-year-old? The 21-year-old who beat her with a rock when she said ‘No’? The girls who let their friend get drunk and go off on her own? The town who turned a blind eye as this behaviour was reinforced? Or the victim herself; “You dose yourself in kero, then start playing with matches, you can’t blame anyone else when you set yourself on fire.”
The conflict of the writing is cleverly constructed from the party where Tracey is killed and the aftermath, rather than in the actual assault and rape. Tracey is never shown on stage, but is referenced throughout. In EbbFlow Theatre Co’s production, designer Jac Antcliff keeps her memory alive on stage with a flower vigil that rises from a shrine on the floor across the back wall. Not only does this keep Tracey omnipresent, but it mirrors the women killed in Australia whose names we hear but never get the chance to know.
A strong female cast imparts gravitas on the material; there is a suffocating atmosphere that asphyxiates, causing the truth to prevail. The ringleader of the boys, Ricko, is played with charming conviction by Jayden Popik. A character that would be so easy to hate in the wrong hands, Popik is compelling to watch. The relationship between Jarred (Karl Richmond) and his mother, Diane (Michelle Robinson) is portrayed with beautiful integrity, as they grapple not only with the tragedy of the murder, but also Diane’s own mortality. As a single mother, she must confront the possibility of being taken away from her son in this tumultuous time.
A play written long before the time of the Me Too movement, the parallels between Enright’s Blackrock and today’s society are clear. The tension is held long after the performance finishes, with the cast’s choice not to bow at the end of the piece catching the audience off guard and ensuring the subject matter permeates.
At times bitingly funny in the midst of heart-wrenching tragedy, ‘Blackrock’ is an important piece of Australian literature and a story that must be told.