It’s not easy to toe the line between hard-hitting and melodramatic.

Blackrock, a play written by Nick Enright in 1995, is the adaptation of an earlier play entitled “A Property of the Clan” (also written by Nick Enright), and it packs a punch. Most of the audience will be familiar with the story already; a teenage girl (Tracey) is raped and murdered after attending a beach party with friends. Blackrock focuses on the world in which Tracey lived, and died. The story features Jared, a local surfer who was also present at the party. Through his eyes, we gain an understanding of the events that led to her death, and the aftermath of finding her killer.

While inspired by a true story, Blackrock is a work of fiction. However, the community that is described here could be any working-class town in Australia.  These are coarse, hardworking characters whose problems are either “locked away” or drowned in a bottle, and where there is nothing more important than mateship. It could be anywhere.

What’s interesting about this play is who is not seen. There are no healthy male role models. There’s something almost pitiful about the boy/man characters who are presented with an equal blend of misogyny and bravado. Despite their rough, and occasionally violent behavior, you can’t help feeling a bit sorry for them. Even the repulsively smooth and manipulative “Ricko”, played convincingly by Jayden Popik, has his moments of helplessness and fear.

Undoubtedly, this was the intention of director Nicola Bowman. Blackrock brings the voice of the female characters forward, showing their inelegant and inspiring courage, as they face tragedy as sisters, girlfriends and mothers. In particular, the character of Cherie (played by Joanna Halliday) brings innocence, grief and rage, and movingly speaks to the complexity of teenage emotions.  Another outstanding cast member is Michelle Robertson whose heartbreaking portrayal of Jared’s mother reveals the pain of a single parent, trying to raise a decent kid.

On a more technical note, the set was stark and moody, and its’ minimalist approach created versatility for quick scene changes. Early on, the pink design on the rear wall was a distraction, and didn’t seem to speak to the story. As the story developed, the clever usage of lighting, scaffolding and 44 gallon drums built a simple metaphor for industry and human fragility.

Blackrock had the potential to be an outstanding piece of theatre. The main opportunity for improvement lay in the overall presentation of dialogue. Written in a casually “Aussie” style, the script was bursting with slang and colloquialisms which were expressed awkwardly at times, and there were moments where the pace of speech was too quick to catch its’ full effect. In addition, there were other points when music (while appropriately loud) actually drowned out the voices of the characters. 

With a poignantly “youthful” feel, this impressive cast has shared a story that leaves a chill in the air. The audience feels intimately connected with each character as they struggle through a horror that is so real, and very disturbing. Despite some minor opportunities for polish, it’s well worth checking out.

Blackrock is playing at St Martin’s Youth Arts Centre until August 3rd.