MAN WITH THE IRON NECK - A New Work With a Promising Voice
Legs on the Wall's Man with the Iron Neck is one of the most significant new works of theatre in this past decade. It is a piece which centres around the taboo of youth suicide in the Aboriginal community, with playwright and actor Ursula Yovich (Mamma Rose) claiming in the post-show Q&Q that 'almost every aboriginal you'll come across will have experienced this certain issue'. Cast member Caleena Salsbury (Evelyn) continued on by saying that "the statistics of aboriginal people committing suicide is ridiculous...Australia doesn't know about that [the number of suicides] and no one talks about it." She said that putting this work on stage means that Indigenous Australians are able to have that conversation and I couldn't agree more.
Having it's a world premiere at the Brisbane festival, the piece tells the story of three Aboriginal kids growing up in a small town and explores the journey of grief, mourning and pain two have when one of them takes their life. Ash, the central character, becomes obsessed with the early 20th century stuntman The Great Peters, aka 'Man With The Iron Neck' whose titular stunt was jumping off of bridges with a rope securely tied around his neck and live to tell the tale. What Ash learns throughout the play is that the stunt truly is a stunt and nothing more; that it's impossible to be both in the world of the living and in the world of the dead.
It was clear from the get-go that the cast has a strong connection and you'd have to, work with such a challenging, confronting and traumatic subject-matter. Not to mention all of the aerial work, especially when Kyle Shilling (Bear) flies up to quite literally the roof of the theatre, not holding onto anything. The stand out actor was Tibian Whyles as Ash who not only brought a formidable density into his character but quite often stole your tears from you.
One of the things I enjoyed most about the production was Sam James striking visuals on the video projector on the coiled back wall of the space, establishing the time and place of each scene, as well as the characters' minds which often included unsettling imagery. But what I loved the most was when the imagery, physical theatre and the text worked as one unit, like Yovich's heart-breaking monologue about giving birth to her twins, intensified by a breathtaking aerial ballet sequence performed by Shilling and Salsbury in front of a red backdrop. It is an image that I'll remember for a long time.
The script was full of metaphors. I grew particularly fond of the way in which the scene of Bear's suicide was the backbone of the piece; packing the piece together nicely. The choice of having Australian Rules Football as being a metaphor of hope, laughter and joy but at the same time pain, grief and destruction.
But overall, the script didn't do it justice. It could have gone even further than it did, explored the mourning and grieving in a more innovative way. It felt like every other portrayal of suicide and I don't think that that was what they were aiming for. This work has the potential to leave behind a long-lasting legacy if the script was given more workshopping, if more time was spent on finding a way to make this piece more stylistically and textually different all the other works with examine suicide.
Yes, the work is giving a voice to Aboriginals which I think is fantastic (and about time too) and providing a means for them to heal, but why not go further and push both the creatives and the cast further to their limits.
Man with the Iron Neck
Performed by Legs On The Wall at the Brisbane Powerhouse in partnership with Brisbane Festival
Running from the 26-29th of September