Blackbird, King's Theatre, Edinburgh

Look out, melodrama ahead
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The Independent Culture

Though Harrower denies it, there is clearly a close relationship between this piece and Mamet's Oleanna where a female student and older male tutor fight bitterly, in his office, over sexual harassment charges. In its own right, Allam and May's confrontation also exerts an increasingly powerful grip, with points of acute predatory tension when you can't be sure what either protagonist wants or is planning for the other - sexually or murderously. This is also a seriously thought-provoking piece, raising questions about people's responsibility and emotional instability at different ages, about shifting definitions of love and lust, and about the possibility of escaping your past. These issues are probed far more bravely here than in media coverage of such cases. Ray further vehemently insists that he is not "one of them", not a serial paedophile, that Una was the only young girl he has ever been drawn to and that the attraction was overwhelming.

In fact, as the night wears on, both slip into remembering how they first met and how Una had a precociously flirtatious crush on Ray. Though Harrower never lets you forget she was under-age or the damage she sustained, their reminiscences almost start sounding like a romantic tragedy - before their relationship takes further disastrous turns.

Harrower's dialogue hovers between naturalistic and stylised fractured sentences and Stein treats it like a musical score, with clearly shaped movements, very distinct swings in mood and pacing. Actually though, I did not always feel Allam and May were in safe hands. Perhaps it's a cultural difference, but Stein seems to have encouraged these two essentially superb naturalistic actors to fall, occasionally, into melodrama. Allam's freeze at the door is a case in point. He looks like Edmund Kean. When he physically sags with guilt, it is another exaggeratedly pointed "moment" and faintly silly. The unscripted coup de théâtre at the end - changing the whole set for a savage car-park brawl, complete with a zooming motor - is shockingly visceral but gimmicky too and rather crass. Still, certainly worth seeing.

k.bassett@independent.co.uk

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