Written by Tiffany Barton
Directed by Monica Main
Featuring Della-Rae Morrison, Maitland Schnaars, Caitlin Jane Hampson, Amri Mrisho, Maja Liwszyc and Rubeun Yorkshire
23 – 30 October 2014
We’ve seen two plays from and about the Pilbara town of Roebourne here in the last month. Both are the result of long collaborations with the local community, and both spring from the tragedies that have beset that hardscrabble, blighted place.
The first, Big hART’s Hipbone Sticking Out, has triumphantly reached its potential; it’s as exciting and creatively successful a piece of theatre as I’ve seen.
Tiffany Barton’s Metalhead (at Victoria Hall, directed by Monica Main for the Fremantle Festival) still has some distance to travel.
Metalhead lacks accuracy and development in parts, and some of its characters are hard to grasp. There is, though, undoubted power, unflinching conviction and theatre craft in much of Barton’s writing. She’s shown in work like Diva and Polly’s Waffle that she has no fear of sex or violence, either separately or in combination, in her work, and there are some savage lessons to be learned from it.
Jackie (Maja Liwszyc) and Jake (Rubeun Yorkshire) are teenaged siblings, deserted by both their parents, yearning for their mother but terrified by their violent, abusive father. Both kids have reacted violently to their circumstances; Jackie with the pugnacity needed for simple self-preservation, Jake with nihilistic savagery. His relationship with Michaela (CJ Hampson), a girl wilting in an environment of degradation, is exploitative and dangerous; his friendship with the amiable, credulous Baloo (the enormous Amri Mrisho) just as destructive.
The world outside is more than capable of wreaking havoc with these lives, but they can also do terrible harm to each other, and themselves.
Into that world come two outsiders, Freeman (Maitland Schnaars) and Mercy (Della-Rae Morrison), and they bring with them the play’s major problem. Part parental figures, part shamans, part fertility symbols, Freeman and the similarly puzzling Mercy float between reality and the supernatural, costing the play energy and momentum when they do.
Despite some strong performances, especially from Morrison and the impressive Liwszyc, the wheels of this production spin with little traction. That’s not to say, with clearer characterisation and more measured direction, especially of the combustible Jake, that Metalhead won’t gather strength and effectiveness in future productions.
This review appeared in The West Australian 28.10.14