A visually stunning, utterly heartbreaking and incredibly important piece of theatre
Reviewed at the Dunstan Playhouse on 8 March 2019
Presented by Adelaide Festival
I would like to acknowledge that The Man With the Iron Neck was held on Kaurna Tarntanya, land of the Kaurna people who are its traditional owners.
A visually stunning, utterly heartbreaking and incredibly important piece of theatre – Man With the Iron Neck will have you gasping in wonder at its high-flying actors one minute and wrenching at your heart strings the next.
With the sounds of the Australian outback echoing through the theatre, three young Aboriginal teenagers muck around in the backyard instead of hanging out the washing, only to break their mum’s Hills Hoist – a classic Australian clothesline. This doesn’t seem to matter greatly though, as it becomes clear how close this tight-knit family is; an Aboriginal single mother, Mum Rose, and her twin son and daughter, Evelyn and Bear, plus Ash – their neighbour, Evelyn’s boyfriend and Bear’s best friend.
As time goes on, though, the audience is shown more about this family’s past and the haunting losses they’ve faced not only directly, but indirectly through their past generations and the horrific history of colonial Australia. When it all becomes too much for a young Aboriginal teenager Bear, we witness a soul-crushing heartbreak like no other that tears through not only his direct family, but also his best friend. The trauma causes Ash to reconsider a scholarship he received as he instead becomes obsessed with the early-twentieth-century stuntman, The Great Peters – ‘The Man With the Iron Neck’, whose most famous trick was to jump off bridges with a rope tied around his neck, and survive. Will those close to Bear be able to move on past this horrific tragedy? Or will it forever consume their world and prevent them from launching into their lives?
Man With the Iron Neck challenges the audience with visuals that truly shock, but are necessary as a way of getting this important message across. As these issues are acted out, they’re inescapable for the audience and quite literally fly right in the faces of those watching, similar to the inescapable torrent of issues that push so many Aboriginals into drug and alcohol addiction and/or suicide.
Australia’s premier physical theatre company, Legs on the Wall add a totally new dimension to this show using their bodies as powerful props to help convey the beauty and tragedy within this Aboriginal family’s life, and furthermore the Aboriginal community. Interwoven with this impressive, high-flying physical theatre are large, immersive visuals that are projected onto the entire back of the stage. From realistic video that portrays travelling through the vast Australian bush to a patchwork of disorientating visuals surrounding death and Australia’s horrific history regarding its treatment of Indigenous Australians – these visuals pull the audience even further into this foreign world.
Despite, at some points, the casual moments of dialogue feeling a little staged (which could be due to the fact it was opening night), the entire cast show great theatrical talent alongside their impressive aerial and acrobatic skills. A special mention has to go to Ursula Yovich (also the playwright) whose monologues as Mum Rose leave the audience audibly weeping. She impressively brings an intense emotional power to moments on stage including the birth of her twin children, utter despair at the losses she’s faced and her attempts to emotionally connect with those around her. Someone should give her an award for her performance ASAP!
This isn’t just a show you should see, but really one that every Australian needs to see. It addresses important taboo topics within our society including youth suicide, racism and the hardships that Indigenous Australians face on a daily basis when simply trying to live. Man With the Iron Neck will stay with you long after the curtain goes down.
Trigger warning: Themes of suicide and some depictions that may distress.
Reviewed by Georgina Smerd
Your Twitter: @Georgie_xox
Venue: Dunstan Playhouse, Adelaide Festival Centre, Adelaide, 5000
Season: 8 – 11 March 2019
Duration: 80 mins
Tickets: $25 – $69