In Blackrock, graduate students cross to the dark side

Richard Watts

Fresh talents from QUT Creative Industries star in La Boite’s new production of this powerful play about mateship and toxic masculinity.
In Blackrock, graduate students cross to the dark side

Images by Dylan Evans

First staged in 1995 and inspired by a real-life crime, Nick Enright’s Blackrock is a compelling exploration of class and conflict, manhood and murder. La Boite’s new production of the play – opening in July – features a professional cast alongside final year students fresh from QUT's Bachelor of Fine Arts acting course, bringing a striking verisimilitude to the work.

‘We were looking at our partnership with QUT Creative Industries and thinking, how do we work with these guys more and more? We’re on campus here but we’re an independent professional company, and we’re constantly wanting to influence the way young graduates come out into the industry and give them opportunities,’ said La Boite’s Artistic Director, Todd MacDonald.

‘We were also looking at the curriculum, of course – we look at what texts the schools are looking at, because a big part of young audiences are high schools. So we’re always researching different elements of the program, but at the end of the day artistically, for me, the cast have got to be as young as possible and as skilful as possible.’  

More than two decades have passed since Blackrock premiered, but the play’s themes remain frighteningly pertinent.

‘It is interesting, as we unpick it with this new young cast ... we were having discussions about whether it has dated or not and it hasn’t, is our feeling,’ said MacDonald. 

‘But the issues are still the same and masculinity – the way that we raise our boys, and the way that boys think about girls and men think about women – it’s got more complicated now, because of social media and technology, in a way – it’s causing a whole different raft of issues.’

Click here to learn more about La Boite’s Blackrock

One of Blackrock’s many strengths is that it’s not just a compelling drama about the differences between friendship and mateship; it’s a microcosm of Australian life. Enright’s script documents the impact of a horrific crime on a community where everyone is complicit and yet also a victim, and in doing so examines the rarely observed fault lines of class conflict which run through Australian society.

‘The more I keep reading the text and the more I unpack it, it’s about excess and peer pressure. And of course the balance of the gender politics is in question and constantly under the microscope – and it pushes back and forth both ways,’ said MacDonald.

‘It’s a great microscopic look at a family unit that has fractured and it asks all of those questions: what happens when you don’t have a strong father in this scenario? Enright brings up all this stuff about how we raise our children, and obviously split families are almost the norm now, and it’s not really about the fact that they’re split or not, it’s about what are the roles that the parents play.

‘In Blackrock you see this professional woman, Diane, played by Christen O'Leary, trying to hold her son on course with all of these other influences coming at him, trying to get him through school so he’s got a chance of having more opportunities than his father, who’s a boxing coach, had. And it is about class. To be really honest, to be really real about it, this is about a mother trying to elevate her son – to give him a better life.’

La Boite’s production of Blackrock runs from 22 July to 12 August. Click here for booking details.

About the author

Richard Watts is ArtsHub's Performing Arts Editor and Team Leader, Editorial; he also presents the weekly program SmartArts on community radio station Three Triple R.

The founder of the Emerging Writers' Festival, Richard currently serves on the Committee of Management for La Mama Theatre, on the board of literary journal Going Down Swinging, and on the Green Room Awards Independent Theatre panel. He is a life member of the Melbourne Queer Film Festival, and in 2017 was awarded the status of Melbourne Fringe Festival Living Legend.

Follow Richard on Twitter: @richardthewatts