Adelaide Festival Review: The Man With The Iron Neck – Dunstan Playhouse (08.03.19)

Note: this play includes references to self-harm and suicide.

The topic of youth suicide, particularly within Indigenous communities has been part of recent conversations. Josh Bond and Ursula Yovich, the co-director and playwright of “Man with the Iron Neck” have this to say about the play:

“We are overwhelmed everyday and it’s not because of the business we’re in. It’s the nature of being Aboriginal in this country. We are born into families who are dealing with trauma. Over 230 years of trauma that continues to this day.”

Before the play begins, Aunty Georgina presents Welcome to Country, acknowledging the spirits of the land below and welcoming our physical bodies upon the land. The presence of Elders, past present and future is tangible within the Playhouse. It is a beautiful and powerful introduction for what is to come.

A panoramic rear screen is used brilliantly to create a range of scenes, starting with a familiar seeming bike ride through the Australian bush. We meet twins Bear (Kyle Shilling) and Evelyn (Caleena Sansbury) and her boyfriend Ash (Tibian Wyles) in a typical Australian setting. Young people talking about their dreams and hopes with plenty of good-natured banter between themselves. It comes across as idyllic until the hills-hoist clothesline gets broken just as Mum Rose played by Ursula Yovich comes home.

Even this incident can’t dent the obvious love the family members have for each other. An impromptu game of football breaks the tension and everything is rosy again. However, the broken clothesline soon becomes a symbol of the web of the past as Bear becomes tangled in the net. It’s this moment that the skill of the team behind the visuals becomes apparent. The whole set becomes dark and violent and clearly a dark undercurrent exists beyond the cheerful exterior of this family.

Life goes on, until one of the trio unexpectedly ends his life. Past trauma resurfaces; guilt, anger and confusion are the emotions that overwhelm the survivors. So many questions are raised about what can trigger such an act and how events such as this can trigger future trauma. More than ever we become acutely aware that we are all intertwined.

This is not an easy play to watch, but is crafted and performed skillfully with a message of hope for the future.

“The morning star comes at the darkest part of the night….”

Part of the healing process includes a booklet designed by Blak Douglas which has a section to tear off and write your fears, which will be collected and ceremoniously burnt at the end of the season, as well as a place to record what gives us meaning and hope to keep going.

The message of keeping going in the face of obstacles is strong. The Man With The Iron Neck is an important and brave show that is a starting point for further conversation on healing.


The Man With The Iron Neck runs as part of the Adelaide Festival daily until March 11th book online HERE

Legs On The Wall extends an open invite to Man With The Iron Neck audience members and others to take part in a unique healing workshop with David Cole, Darwin based elder and founder of Balunu Foundation. Everyone is welcome, people may attend who haven’t seen the show.

David Cole’s Water Bowls: Challenge of the Warrior Workshop
Dunstan Playhouse | 5-6pm | Sunday 10th March 2019
FREE | Register HERE.

The Man With The Iron Neck was made possible with the support of the Balanves Foundation

The Balunu Foundation is dedicated to breaking the cycle of indigenous disadvantage

For further support and advice:
Lifeline 131 114
Kids Helpline 1800 551 800
Beyond Blue 1300 22 46 36