Blackbird: Confronting and Complex – In conversation with Anna Houston

Australian Actress Anna Houston chats with AussieTheatre about her latest play, Blackbird – opening at the Studio Underground, State Theatre Centre of WA.

Humphrey Bower and Anna Houston in Blackbird for Perth Theatre Company. Image by Richard Jefferson

Blackbird, is a two handed play by Scottish playwright David Harrower and a powerful opening production for Perth Theatre Company’s 2012 season.

Inspired by a true story, and hailed as a modern masterpiece, Blackbird stars 2010 Helpmann Award winning actor Humphrey Bower (Richard III – Melbourne Theatre Company, City Homicide – Network 7) and Anna Houston (Tender Napalm – Perth Theatre Company, As You Like It – Bell Shakespeare Company).

Anna Houston plays the role of Una, a 27 year old woman who shared a forbidden relationship with Ray (Humphrey Bower) when she was 12 and he 40. She confronts him 15 years later and the play studies the brutal truth about their unconventional love and it’s shattering consequences.

“The script really is devastating” said Houston, explaining that it was the text which drew her to this piece.

“It’s brutally uncompromising in what it seeks to put onstage before an audience. I was attracted to the risk of playing the character Una and living her experience for ninety minutes onstage. And the writing is wonderful – stark, lyrical, utterly mesmerising. I can’t imagine too many actors saying no to this play.”

While there are some confronting themes in the play, not least of which is the unconventional love shared between Houston’s character and Humphrey Bower’s character Ray, Houston believes the work will inspire discussion in the community, rather than controversy.

“Blackbird doesn’t condone or condemn. It simply puts an incredibly complex relationship onstage and asks you to look at it, to think, talk about it” she said.

And Houston hopes there is discussion about the piece – but not for the wrong reasons.

“I’m aware that there exists a knee jerk reaction to artistic investigation into what we consider taboo topics, which is ridiculous”

“I’m aware that there exists a knee jerk reaction to artistic investigation into what we consider taboo topics, which is ridiculous. How can anyone get up in arms about the play without reading it or seeing if for themselves? For what it’s worth, I think there’s enormous value in breaking apart and interrogating culturally taboo issues through art, whether that be film, theatre, music”, she said.

After weeks of studio rehearsal, Houston explained how the first dress run of the show was a turning point for the entire cast and crew.

“Being on the set, supported by incredible costumes, lighting and sound, was truly inspiring. Everything seemed to kick up a gear when all those elements combined”, she said.

No stranger to both the stage and screen, Houston says she approaches work in both mediums similarly – with truth and respect – but that live theatre requires a completely different form of delivery.

“I always try to start from a place of truth and respect for the writer’s intentions. The execution is different. Theatre demands a different technical skills set”, she said.

We ask Anna Houston our five quick questions

Do you have any pre or post show rituals?

Pre show rituals are all based on how best to hold off on having a panic attack. Post show rituals usually include alcohol.

What do you think the message of this work is?

Whatever it says to you, the audience member, is what the message is. I’m not being deliberately cagey – the play should communicate something intensely personal and private for each person who sees it.

Who do you think Blackbird will appeal to?

Anyone who enjoys being challenged and confronted by theatre.

What is your next project after Blackbird?

Back to auditioning. Perhaps a bit of writing.

Who’s your show crush? 

The entire production team. Is that a cop out? They’re a ridiculously good looking and talented bunch. Honestly, it’s like a Calvin Klein ad backstage. So damn hot.


Erin James

Erin James is's former Editor in Chief and a performer on both stage and screen. Credits include My Fair Lady, South Pacific and The King and I (Opera Australia), Love Never Dies and Cats (Really Useful Group), Blood Brothers (Enda Markey Presents), A Place To Call Home (Foxtel/Channel 7) and the feature film The Little Death (written and directed by Josh Lawson).

Erin James

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