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Blackbird. Class Act Productions. Cleethorpes Parkway. 20 May 2022.

Updated: Apr 8, 2023

Blackbird by David Wrightam

Class Act Productions

Cleethorpes Parkway

20 May 2022

David Wrightam is a playwright who understands drama and dramatic structure, as is clearly evidenced in tonight's production. He is capable of crafting a script to allow a large number of players to have their moment to shine and still succeeds in driving the narrative forward. This play is receiving (I believe) its third full production by Class Act, the company Wrightam started and which has been succesful in giving so many young people a full and well-rounded education in the dramatic arts. This particular show sees the directorial duties taken on by Amanda Pearce and she handles her large ensemble beautifully. From the opening picture of girls slogging away in the public laundry, through to the emotional closing scene, every young performer knew their place and gave uniformly animated and emotive, yet disciplined performances.

The play is set in 1910 in the working class slums of Newcastle and tells the story of a mining family at war within its own four walls. The Teale family consisting of degenerate father Jimmy (Stephen Campbell), ailing mother glue that holds the family together Emily (Abby Reece ina convincing performance), and their ten children of whom more later. But this is really the story of their youngest son Rory, played wonderfully by Lindon Rising. Affectionately known as "Blackbird" the entire family adores Rory, who at curtain rise is experiencing his first day as a 'working man' at the pit as a wagon boy.

The tale whisks us through the lives and loves of the Teales , daughter Cathy (Rylicia McDonald in a moving performance) meeting and courting Owen Bradley (Cameron Bonner), and her feisty brothers Dominic (Reece Stark), Declan (Declan Rising), Peter (Jayden Henfrey) and Billy (Charlie Henderson). The sisters were Anna (Becki Douglas), Morven (Rubee Smart) and Maggie (Ella Lloyd), and we also met their strong and independent neighbour, Bella Morton (an imperious Abbie Dixon). Each gave strong performances. I particularly enjoyed the pairing of Emily and Bella, as both actresses sparked off each other.

The subplot with Cathy and Owen tugged at the heart strings and McDonald broke your hearts, as she declined to run away with her beau to a better life, for the sake of the family in a wonderfully, warm performance.

The other recurring plot within this complex story was that of the plight of and exploitation of the men who gave their all to bring black gold to the surface. These men were never properly rewarded for the back-breaking efforts doing one of the most dangerous, peace time jobs on Earth. As the union supporting brothers prepared to take on the mine owners, Stark and Rising gave powerful and compelling performances, totally committed to their roles.

There were several strong featured roles too. Jade Pike commanded the stage whenever Eileen was given a scene and was thoroughly believable. Oli Goodman was a wonderfully slimey school bully as Daniels, and Ashley Draper as Mr. Donelly, the hideous adult bully who received his just reward. Ayla Jafri was also excellent in her role as Marie, the privileged schoolgirl who befriends Rory. Every performer gave wholehearted and committed performances though and the full company are worthy of applause.

But clearly special praise must be singled out for Lindon Rising as "Blackbird" Rory Teale. His wondeful work created empathy and the audience clearly fell in love with his character. He gave a hugely compelling and consistent performance, and really understood what was required of him in the role. He is a young performer who, no doubt, will continue to bring that level of commitment to the stage and will return to the stage in leading roles allowing him to develop and demonstrate his range.

The play was struck through with the DNA of Richard Llewellyn's tale of a mining family in South Wales, in How Green Was My Valley, but David Wrightam has reimagined the themes for a new audience, admirably. His work gives every young performer a meaty role that they can get their teeth into and this production proves just how capable they are when given strong material to work with. The play was, by turns, funny and deeply emotional. This was a production to be proud of, and I look forward to whatever Class Act Productions chooses to bring to the audiences of North East Lincolnshire next.

Each night featured a different cast for the performance and many roles were shared over the two nights by performers from the Adult, Senior and Youth Sections of Class Act. Also featured in tonight's performance were Lucy Suckling, Charlotte Rea, Ferrari Kitt, Izzy Forman, Tilly Burnett, Jasmine Wilson, Harry Giles, Kai Atkins, Josh Ellis-Thompson, Milo Clayton, Renee Ornsby and Lewis Graves. Those not featured in the Friday company who performed the previous night before include Ellie Tams, Imogen Tayler, Aimee Adams, Georgia Scott, Luka Allison, Daisy Barton, Emelia Roberts and Amelia Walton.

Andy Evans 20 May 2022.

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