Under the Black Rock at Arcola Theatre
Written by Tim Edge, Under the Black Rock is a dark thriller set in Northern Ireland during the Troubles. Blood plays a pivotal role: the blood that runs in a torn-apart family, the blood spilled during the conflicts, and the blood that stains not only the hands but the “whole body” of a mother, whose tired heart is in tatters.
The stage is simple – a table, some chairs – but the play offers some visually beautiful moments, also thanks to a wonderful use of light that perfectly accompanies the characters’ emotional and mental states. But the most visually compelling element is arguably the black rock hanging above the stage: wherever you look, it’s there. A memento mori, a reminder of one’s mortality. Its dark presence weighs heavily on characters and audience alike.
Particularly clever and well-executed are the transitions between scenes, especially since some of the actors play different roles. The subtle exchanges between them as they switch from one role to the other, while also setting the scene, become a part of the experience itself.
However, despite all the twists and turns, the writing does not fully convince. There is a lack of depth to the characters, who come across as a bit too stereotypical in their respective roles: a charismatic but violent father, a terrified and heartbroken mother, a ruthless thug, a morally ambiguous priest, an old lady who makes dirty (and often hilarious) remarks, and a daughter who wants to prove to her father that she too can contribute to the cause (although not much time is spent explaining what their cause is). It is quite hard to form a bond with them – with the exception of the mother – and at times it is confusing to understand what they want, how they feel about each other, and what they are trying to achieve.
Actress Flora Montgomery deserves a special mention. Even though it is Evanna Lynch’s face on the poster, Montgomery’s performance is the most memorable. She effortlessly goes from being the leader of an extremist group to a mother mourning her child, ruthless one moment and entirely vulnerable the next.
The play is described as “serving as a timely warning”, an invitation to reflect on the sanctity of human life, and being compassionate towards one another when ignorance and intolerance reign. Considering the current wave of hatred that washes over many communities and minorities, with a deeply concerning rise in homophobia and transphobia in the UK, this is indeed fitting. One might wonder how much we still have to learn.
Photo: Gregory Haney
Under the Black Rock is at Arcola Theatre from 2nd March until 25th March 2023. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.