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Review: Man with the Iron Neck at the Dunstan Playhouse

By Lisa Lanzi

Physical theatre and deep emotion. World renown Legs on the Wall have brought this performance to Adelaide after a season at the Sydney Festival in January and its premiere to standing ovations at Brisbane Festival in September 2018. The cast is stellar, the production values and design faultless and the script by Ursula Yovich hits home leaving much of the audience in tears and many of us stricken. The subject is family, Australian small town culture and suicide - male youth suicide and inherited generational trauma that affects our First Nations People.

Quite the departure for Legs on the Wall, this work is driven by text. There is heightened physicality and thrilling aerial work as we have come to expect from the Company but narrative is at the forefront of The Man With The Iron Neck.

The cast has actor/singer/writer Ursula Yovich as Mum Rose, Tibian Wyles (actor, Djuki Mala dancer) as Ash, Kyle Shilling (NAISDA graduate, former Bangarra dancer, actor) as Bear and Caleena Sansbury (NAISDA graduate, dancer) as Evelyn. All are exceptional and portray their characters with dignity - I cannot begin to imagine how challenging this work – and particularly its themes - is to perform for an Aboriginal cast. Co-director Josh Bond comments that "This show is for our families, our communities and for anybody who has experienced that trauma and has those feelings [of suicide] — for them to know that ultimately they are loved and that there is a way to get through those dark times".

As dark as the theme is, the cast also give us glimpses of the delightful joy and ease of family banter and their characters are a tight knit group bonded by deep love and a devotion to ‘the game’ : AFL. The audience is treated to scenes of close friendship, young love and positivity toward the future. Yovich also manages to include mention of the hurtful impact of racial slurs, referencing the ‘monkey’ comment levelled at Adam Goodes from the Collingwood crowd in 2013.

There is a parallel tale told within this production, ‘The Great Peters’, serving as a contrasting and slightly macabre analogy for the more emotional focus of Bear’s death by suicide at the same tree his father hung himself from. Director Josh Bond became fascinated with early 20th-century German Aloys Peters, also known as The Great Peters after familial experience with suicide. This daredevil acrobat would leap from a 23 metre high platform with only a noose of sorts around his neck. By some means he was able to survive this leap, hence his nickname : The Man With The Iron Neck.

There is a riveting large-scale video backdrop to much of the action by Video Designer Sam James and a subtle soundscape by Michael Toisuta & Jed Silver. We also get to have a Hills hoist on stage which, after being used for the usual drying of washing and playful swinging on, becomes airborne and a much more sinister prop.

Bravo Legs on the Wall : a courageous and truth-telling performance

Photo Credit: Victor Frankowski

All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.


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