Damn. This show. This fucking show. You must go and see this show.
This show will kick you in the guts, leave you reeling from laughter and then breaking your heart multiple times. Gorgeously written, perfectly cast and innovatively set, this is an important piece of Australian theatre about a hidden tragedy in our country. It must be seen and discussed. It’s our pick of the Brisbane Festival.
Done. Review over. Don’t let me waste any more of your time. Go and see it now.
After all that, if you still need convincing, let me tell you a little more about this gem of a show, “The Man with the Iron Neck”.
17 years ago, theatre maker Joshua Bond created a one-man show that focused on his obsession with a 19th century American stuntman and how that helped him deal with the suicide of a member of his family. Since then this show has evolved into the Man with the Iron Neck (MWTIN), a new work exploring the story of a small-town indigenous family’s journey to survive and find hope after losing one of their own.
The show has been developed through a collaboration between Joshua and indigenous writer and actress Ursula Yovich, co-director Gavin Robbins and leading physical theatre company Legs on the Wall. It combines a traditional theatre narrative with aerial choreography and multimedia to tell this all-too-common Australian story; youth suicide in Indigenous communities and its impact on friends and loved ones.
Suicide in Australia, particularly among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island People, is a national tragedy. As many as 1 in 12 deaths of Indigenous Australians being from suicide. MWTIN is an intimate story that delves into this issue. It focuses on an indigenous family living in rural Australia. Bear, a gifted, yet troubled footy player, on track for the big leagues. Ash, Bear’s best mate, the larrikin, quick for a smile and a joke. Evelyn, Bear’s twin sister and Ash’s girlfriend, trying to balance big dreams with the responsibility of family and Mamma Rose, Ben and Evelyn’s mum, nurturer and sole provider of the family. It focuses on the events leading up and following Ben taking his own life, interspersed with the history of the Man with the Iron Neck.
The casting and words are perfection. The cast shares an infectious, natural chemistry and able to balance the light and dark elements of the script with ease. Jokes between siblings and best mates come thick and fast and there are many laugh out-loud moments. All break our hearts with their struggles with grief and loss. Kyle Shilling’s (Ben) portrayal of someone fighting with the black dog is measured and nuanced. And it is in the quieter moments of grief shared between those left behind that hit the audience particularly powerful. There was not a dry eye in the house by the end.
While the aerial choreography of the piece is heavily promoted, it used sparingly throughout the piece, and mostly to symbolise the emotional journey of the characters. While I was excited to see aerial work by Legs on the Wall, I was glad they used it as they did, because in greater doses it could have tipped the show into melodrama. The use of video as the backdrop to each scene was well used and helped to draw us into the piece. All elements added to the overall impact of the piece.
While MWTIN is an intimate story, it is an important story that touches on all of us and a story that we need to be talking about as a nation. It is heavy stuff for sure, but it is a story that needs to be heard and felt and remembered. The creative team don’t take this lightly. They see this as their responsibility to talk about this issue and their responsibility to support the audience with it. Not only does the show ends with a message of hope, hope for the future and hope for those who are left behind, but the audience are given resources to take with them, to help them reflect on how they can find hope in times of darkness. If that’s not powerful theatre, I don’t know what is.
⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
Adam Wood saw Man with the Iron Neck on Wednesday 26 September 2018. Man with the Iron Neck premiered at the Brisbane Festival and played from 26 – 29 September 2018. Images by Brett Boardman.
Bear | Kyle Shillings
Evelyn | Caleena Sansbury
Ash | Tibian Wyles
Mamma Rose | Ursula Yovich
Co-Director [& original concept] | Josh Bond
Co-Director | Gavin Robins
Writer | Ursula Yovich
Dramaturg | Steve Rodgers
Head Rigger | Andrew Bright
Set Design | Joey Ruigrok
Co-Composer | Iain Grandage
Co-Composer | Stephen Francis
Sound Design | Michael Toisuta & Jed Silver
Lighting Design |Matt Marshall
AV Designer | Sam James
Costume Design | Emma Vine
Creative Producer | Cecily Hardy
Associate Producer | Sophia Marinos