Review: Man With The Iron Neck

Racism, inherited trauma and memory collide in a compelling and challenging performance from Legs on the Wall.

A powerful play this. Introduced by dignified Indigenous elder Auntie Georgina and David Cole from the Baluna Foundation, Man With The Iron Neck is impressively about youth suicide, and particularly Indigenous youth suicide. It is given a stellar performance in this Legs on the Wall production.  The company is known for its acrobatic skills but these are less to the fore than usual, with the emphasis on the story, based on a work of Josh Bond and told through the well-crafted dialogue by Ursula Yovich, who also excels in the central part of Mum Rose.

Joey Ruigrok’s set design spreads a cyclorama with extended bush, on a video projection by Sam James which can sweep from a ground point of view to a dizzying aerial height. We are in a small Australian town. On stage left are the lower trunk and branches of an old gum tree, and on the right a Hills Hoist, where Mum’s daughter Evelyn (Caleena Sansbury) is hanging out the clothes.  Enter her boyfriend Ash (Tibian Wyles), who has won a scholarship to study acting, and her twin brother and Ash’s best mate Bear (Kyle Shilling), a promising footballer.  There’s some mucking around on the Hoist, which tips over. When Rose approaches, the three race off.

Later, Bear talks to Ash about his troubling experiences of racism and being called a monkey – a clear allusion to Adam Goodes.  Ash tries to comfort him, saying ‘We pretend because we have to [accept that sort of thing].’  But Bear has deep demons, reaching back to previous generations.  We learn that the twins’ father, while being treated for cancer, takes his life at a branch of the tree.  Despite his beckoning football future, and the reassurances of Ash, Bear does the same. So the family now has to cope with this double tragedy. In an emotionally charged scene, a weeping Evelyn attacks the tree with an axe.

Yovich skilfully uses memory to enrich the play – in a centrally important scene, Rose vividly re-enacts the birth of the twins, who appear entwined, hanging together heads down in a red amniotic glow. In another she dreams of a long conversation between herself and Bear. At the end of the play, Ash reimagines his dead mate, but he realizes he must let the past go, and when he does, Bear is swiftly lifted up out of sight. Ash, now free, can look to a hopeful future. In the words of Josh Bond’s mother, quoted in a booklet for the play, ‘The morning star comes at the darkest part of the night, a signal that even at the darkest hour, there is hope, a new day is dawning, a sign that everything will be ok’. Mum Rose is similarly positive.

The idea for this absorbing, challenging work came from Josh Bond’s fascination with American stuntman Sam Scott, who died in 1841 when jumping from London’s Waterloo Bridge with a rope around his neck that tightened and killed him. Bond and co-director Gavin Roberts direct the play with easy flow, modulating from humour through tragedy to its triumphantly hopeful conclusion. The production is much enhanced by the music of co-composers Iain Grandage and Steve Francis, the sound design of Michael Toisula and Jed Silver and Matt Marshall’s lighting. The cast are all natural, vigorous and totally believable.

Their message compels us to listen.

Man With The Iron Neck was performed at Dunstan Playhouse on Friday, March 8

Man With The Iron Neck
Friday, March 8 – Monday, March 11

adelaidefestival.com.au

If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in the performance or in this review, the following organisations may be able to provide help and advice

Lifeline: 13 11 14
Kids Helpline: 1800 551 800
Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467
Beyond Blue: 1300 224 636

Header image:
Victor Frankowski

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