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Beyond The Neck

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Port Arthur 1996 – 35 people dead, 21 injured.  Red Stitch’s latest production explores this day we all remember clearly but have barely spoken about since.

Told from the perspective of four people deeply affected by loss, Beyond the Neck winds their narratives together to create an overarching picture of grief. A dead child will always be a dead child, a senseless death is just that.

Playwright Tom Holloway’s detached style is a perfect vehicle for such subject matter. The actors take turns talking to the audience, rarely talking to each other. They begin to tell each others stories but are interrupted with “no!” and then the voice of origin speaks up. It’s a powerful metaphor for trauma, like a psychologist asking a child why the doll feels sad.

Holloway, a Tasmanian, began conducting interviews with survivors a decade after the massacre as research for Beyond the Neck. In essence this is why we tell our stories – so we not only don’t forget but enable healing – our own doll to hang our hurts on. All four leads (Marcus McKenzie, Phillipa Spicer, Emmaline Carroll and Roger Oakley) are very good and well connected to each other, you can feel the rhythm between them, like instruments playing a song. A testament to Suzanne Chaundy’s direction.

However, as a stand-alone production Beyond the Neck rang a little empty for me. The archetypal characters are ill-suited to evoke subtlety and true empathy. Yet as the playwright’s first piece it’s impressive, you can see the beginnings of the linguistic imprint he will use in later plays like Red Stitch’s 2008 production Red Sky Morning.

In the landscape of Australian theatre Tom Holloway is definitely one to watch.

Beyond the Neck plays at Red Stitch Actors Theatre until April 14.
Tickets www.redstitch.net.


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