Adelaide Festival 2019: ‘The Man With Iron Neck’ Interview with Caleena Sansbury

Interview by Olivia De Zilva

Content Warning: Youth Suicide

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The Man With the Iron Neck directed by Josh Bond & Gavin Robbins based on the script by Ursula Yovich.

The Man With Iron Neck is an imperative, timely production detailing the true impact on Indigenous Australians in rural communities. Based on the script by Ursula Yovich and directed by Josh Bond and Gavin Robbins, this production explores the alarming rate of Indigenous youth suicide and how the collective racism of white Australia has become a dangerous adversity to our First Nations People.

Caleena Sansbury who plays young, Aboriginal woman Evelyn joins me to talk about this important upcoming Adelaide Festival Show and how it has affected her as a performer and Indigenous woman in this current cultural climate.

She describes the play as being in two parts; “seeing a family grow together and the love within that close circle as well as a play about suicide and how it affects rural communities”. Combining racism and AFL has always been a contentious issue, but Caleena states that it’s necessary to explore how Australia’s shared history has become extremely one-sided:

“…Ash, a young indigenous man wants to grow up and play in the AFL. But he encounters so much racism and difficulty that it’s almost impossible to fulfil his dream. Ursula used the story of Sydney Swans player Adam Goodes as an example…Even though Goodsie made it to the top and had a lot of success, he still had to fight and endure racist comments from white Australians at nearly all his games. We want to show that no matter where you’ve made it in your career, racism is still very much prevalent and affects the whole Aboriginal community. When people attack Goodsie, there’s a ripple effect on how we see ourselves as a community…”

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The Man With the Iron Neck explores how Australia’s ‘shared history’ has become extremely one-sided. Image via. Adelaide Festival.

The introspective nature of the play is a heavy one, as it explores the impact of youth suicide and prevalence amongst Indigenous Youth through Evelyn and Ash’s experiences in their small town. Sansbury states that this part of the play is an “important one as suicide can touch everyone in a similar way”. Though it is a difficult subject to act out on the stage, it is important because of the issues Indigenous communities around the country have to face.

“…In the early stages of development, it was an emotional-rollercoaster for the cast to handle. When you have to face these issues as an actor and understand that they are very real to many people, it can be hard to not become emotional. However, we really wanted to make this story as authentic as possible and had to invest these emotions in quite deeply. Because of how close we are as a cast, we can look after each other and understand that sometimes it can get a little hard to cope during rehearsal…”

Throughout the story, Ash idolises a stuntman named The Great Peters, who “embodies life and death” with his dangerous stunts. Promising that “you can’t leap to your death without dying”, The Great Peters stands as a sombre symbol of the risks of suicide and the options it can unfortunately bring to young people.

“…This character shows what it’s life to face death time and time again. He’s a dangerous character, playing with elements of life that shouldn’t be messed with. We want to use this character to show that playing with life is something that can end with bad consequences. Life is important and everyone surrounding a person has love and respect for them, even if they can’t see it at the time. We want our audiences, especially our younger ones, to know that life should be celebrated. Death isn’t the way out…”

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Caleena Sansbury in The Man With the Iron Neck. Image via. Adelaide Festival

Bringing this story to the theatre has been not only challenging emotionally but physically, with the performers participating in aerial stunts on stage to emphasises some of the more implicit aspects of the show. Sansbury says that it’s been a challenge, but very worthwhile in the long run.

“…I didn’t realise all of the elements the show incorporated until I got to the space and started to develop more in rehearsals. I think that Josh and Gavin did such an amazing job of putting dramatic and physical theatre together. They really made things work and formed a cohesive production where everything just fits together. You’ve got theatre on stage, the physical component, sound and projections. It was hard to put all of those together, but now, I feel that the show has combined all elements very easily. I think the audience will enjoy how it all looks and feels when they see it all blend together….”

The Man With the Iron Neck plays at 2019 The Adelaide Festival from the 8–11th of March at the Dunstan Playhouse. For more information, visit the Adelaide Festival website.

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