Tuesday, 23 May 2006

Headlock, Kage Theatre, May 23, 3006

by Kage Theatre with Malthouse Theatre
Where and When: Merlin Theatre, Malthouse,  until June 3, 2006
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on  May 23, 2006

Headlock, by Kage Physical Theatre and directed by Kate Denborough, is a muscular representation of the relationship between young men and their male peers.

The play uses limited dialogue and relies on the visceral physical connections between three youths, brother called Shane (Byron Perry), Dean (Gerard Van Dyck) and Matthew  (Luke Hockley).

The lads may be past school age but their antics are those of boys with no responsibilities, little fear and intense loyalties to each other.

Our first visions of them are as they wrestle playfully. The main stage is a wrestling arena that is both an effective environment for their mock fighting and a metaphor for their world of young masculinity.

Shane, separated from his two brothers, Dean and Matthew, finds himself in the dangerous and alien adult world of prison. He is out of his depth. The playful pranks of his brothers could nto prepare him for tthe violence and abuse he will face in the prison.

None of this is seen overtly. The threat of violence is implied or represented imagistically by shadowy men grabbing at him, a huge digital clock ticking away the deathly prison hours, Shane’s timidity and lonely tears. His final, violent moments are a metaphorical wrestling match. His apparently lifeless body is nursed and cradled by his two brothers.

Shane's short time in prison is peppered with his recollections of his life-affirming times with Dean and Matthew, in the mosh pit at a rock concert, tagging walls over train lines, stealing cars or sneaking a joint in the forest.

Shane was carefree until the consequences of his boyish actions sent him on a journey that ends in violence.

The physical work derives from contact improvisation. The men lift, support and dance as they wrestle. The occasional dialogue is incidental; their physicality tells the story. The Auslan (sign language) used by Matthew is often more expressive than the spoken dialogue.

The design (Ben Cobham, Andrew Livingstone) extends beyond the wrestling ring to mysterious, darkened upstage corners. The lighting design is dramatic and evocative.

Denborough keeps the action constant. Some sections move slowly but the momentum drives us to the inevitable violent conclusion. The ending is unclear and too sudden but the piece has impact.

Headlock balances warmth and intimacy of young men with the danger associated with the unpleasant side of masculinity. Childhood does not always prepare boys for the world of men.

By Kate Herbert

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