Change Edition

Luxembourg duo in gripping rendition of Blackbird play
Theatre

Luxembourg duo in gripping rendition of Blackbird play

by Sarita RAO 3 min. 11.11.2022
Capitani actors Jules Werner and Jil Devresse give emotionally charged performance of Blackbird, a tale of abuse
There is never a "but" in abuse, is the definite conclusion in Harrower's play
There is never a "but" in abuse, is the definite conclusion in Harrower's play
Photo credit: Bohumil Kostohryz

Two actors - known for their roles as a father and daughter in the Luxembourgish Netflix series Capitani - look emotionally drained after their one-hour performance of David Harrower's much-praised play Blackbird.

Given the topic, that is hardly surprising. The harrowing tale tackles the issue of paedophilia - without ever trying to reassure or empathise.

Jil Devresse plays Una, a young woman who visits Ray - acted by Jules Werner - who abused her as a child 15 years earlier, and who she tracks down after spotting his photo in a magazine.

At that time, Una was 12 and Ray was 40. They eloped together, then Ray was caught and went to jail.

Devresse is glorious in her complete anger, even violence, but then fades to an almost ethereal quality when she says “you made me into a ghost”. She is the one in control, calling the shots, asking the questions, and she is relentless, as though she still believes that Ray might trick her.

Angry, remorseful, justifying, lost, Givresse and Werner run through a gamit of emotions in one hour
Angry, remorseful, justifying, lost, Givresse and Werner run through a gamit of emotions in one hour
Bohumil Kostohryz

Werner, a consummate actor not lauded enough for his abilities, plays Ray with just the right amount of pathos. Una's accusations stifle what little empathy he garners by repenting, trying to start a new life, and saying his intentions were noble and honest all those years ago.

The script is taut, jumping forward and backwards, showing their relationship through her eyes – a teenager with a crush - then his: a lonely man unable to find love except with an innocent and adoring girl.

The setting, inside a drab and break-out room, with overflowing waste bins, is seedy. The theatre itself is small, built into a stone cellar, which adds to the claustrophobia of the characters, trapped together.

Shocked

The play is not for the faint-hearted, as Una recalls the sexual details of their relationship, showing the sordid side of it, the hiding and groping.

Ray justifies his actions as “not being one of them”, referring to predatory paedophiles who loiter around playgrounds. He just wants to move on. But for Una there is no moving on: “I lost because I never had time to begin.”

Director Myriam Muller shows Una as a woman trapped by her trauma. And yet she is the oppressor, seeking recompense from Ray, enraged that he has so easily been able to move on, whilst she is locked in her prison cell forever.

There is a chemistry between the two actors, perhaps because they have worked together before. It is hard to pinpoint: certainly not the chemistry of love, but one of anguish over a shared guilt.

"Shocked?" is the one-word question Una opens the play with. As an audience, you certainly will be. What Una thought was love, became abuse when an adult man was unable to resist the infatuation of a tween girl. 

Playwright Harrower draws it all out, making you witness to the lives of two people you would normally only read about in the newspapers.

Werner and Devresse give a bold yet sensitive performance that will force this grisly topic to the forefront of your mind long after you left the theatre. The actors, I suspect, will need more time to recuperate.

You can still see the play at the Théâtre de Centaure on 11, 16, 23 and 25 November at 20.00 hrs, and at 18.30 hrs on 17, 20, 24 and 27 November. On 14 and 15 December, at 20.00 hrs, the play can be seen at CAPE in Ettelbruck


The Luxembourg Times has a new mobile app, download here! Get the Luxembourg Times delivered to your inbox twice a day. Sign up for your free newsletters here.