This is the second season of the Tiffany Barton penned Metalhead after its premiere in October 2014 at the Victoria Hall in Fremantle. It is a tale about how violence and bad deeds are perpetuated in a seemingly endless cycle through the generations; how even the most disadvantaged and damaged of us seek freedom from those binds that hold us fast.
The story centres on Jake (Clarence Ryan) and his step-sister Jackie (Chelsea Gibson) whose mother has disappeared after another violent outburst from Jake’s father. Jake follows in the footsteps of his father and is short-tempered, volatile, and always ready to use his fists to lethal effect. Like her step-brother, Jackie has taken up boxing as a way to cope with the harshness of living in an outback township where everybody is going nowhere fast. This includes the promiscuous Michaela (Caitlin Jane Hampson) and her ‘creepy’ brother Tyler (Declan Brown) both of whom live in a beat up caravan. Michaela is having sex with Jake much to Tyler’s disgust though his protective instincts may betray an entirely different agenda. Jake has an offsider Baloo (Toby Franks) who appears to amuse Jake with his antics but is largely subservient though fond of Jackie.
Into this world come two outsiders with a hint of the otherworldly or supernatural about them – Mercy (Tornina Torres) and Freeman (Ian Bolgia). They state they are there to help the inhabitants of Fury find ‘freedom’ but perhaps they are just as damaged and lost as the others. It’s a potent mix rife with the potential for violence and confrontation… and that’s exactly what we get in spades. That it is done so realistically makes this utterly compelling and at times hard to watch in the best possible way.
Here, the outdoor setting adds an enormous amount of texture as it enhances the visceral nature of the work. The performers are allowed to immerse themselves in the township of Fury – in its barren landscape and its utilitarian accommodation. An actual caravan is stage right with the raised back corner of the courtyard in effect a sandpit (the use of sand is a recurring motif) with a ladder propped up against the wall. There is a circular platform on a large truck tyre that, once overturned, will also represent a grave. Mood is further achieved by an effective lighting design in the outdoor space, evocative music and snippets of recorded song, and even the natural soundscape of the nearby train line and urban surrounds.
The acting by all seven performers is simply stellar. Under the direction of James Winter the brutality is devastatingly brought to life though I must stress there are moments of genuine humour to leaven the assault. Ryan is superb as Jake – all coiled anger and aggression both physically and verbally. It’s an exhausting role and his physicality is outstanding – the fight sequences are well choreographed but it’s the manhandling of Gibson and Hampson that was achingly authentic and had the audience wincing.
Gibson who was so good in WAYTCo’s Punk Rock last year further announces her presence as one to watch with the spunky Jackie. She handled the boxing training sequence very well and clearly had taken no small instruction to make that play credibly. Her equally impressive Punk Rock colleague Declan Brown gave Tyler his own repressed anger with a healthy dose of sarcasm. Hampson, the only member of the original cast, was a revelation as Michaela especially early with her comedy work and a misguided naivety that sees her character get into all sorts of trouble.
I very much liked Franks as the effusive Baloo imbuing the sidekick with a larger-than-life persona that becomes increasingly challenged by Jake’s disintegration into quite reprehensible acts of violence. Torres brought an almost noble quality to Mercy as the character strives to assist (particularly Jackie) while Bolgia was a strong physical presence playing the enigmatic Freeman.
Above all I liked that this was a full tilt performance in every aspect – writing, performance, and staging. This was in your face and unapologetically brutal in spots. There were moments when the audience sat in stunned collective silence as the tension built. Under the stars on a warm Perth night it was something quite special. The ending gave some characters release while others seemed to accept their fate. There were no easy answers here. But that adds to the authenticity – things were never likely to be neatly tied up in a bow as they never are in real life.
Metalhead is wonderful piece of theatre that showcases an exceptional cast. There are only four shows left, ending on Sunday. Go sit out under the stars and experience a little bit of magic.