• Man with the Iron Neck follows the story of Ash as he grapples with his best friend's suicide. (Supplied)Source: Supplied
When someone takes their own life, what happens to the people they leave behind? That’s the question posed by Man with the Iron Neck.
Ella Archibald-Binge

The Point
11 Oct 2018 - 1:15 PM  UPDATED 12 Oct 2018 - 12:00 PM

In a small country town, a promising young footballer takes his life, and his friends and family are left to pick up the pieces.

So goes the plot for Man with the Iron Neck, the latest offering from Sydney physical theatre company Legs on the Wall.

Based on the life experiences of co-director Josh Bond, it’s a narrative that rings true for many First Nations people - including the all-Indigenous four person cast.

New suicide statistics 'paint a bleak picture'
With one-in-20 deaths being by suicide in Indigenous communities, compared to one-in-50 in the wider population, experts say different approaches are urgently needed.

"I think it’s a universal story," performer Caleena Sansbury told The Point.

"I think everyone knows someone who’s had a close family or friend who’s suicided, and I also think that this particular story is important to tell because no one knows about it. It's a taboo subject."

She hopes anyone struggling with their mental health will also take away a key message: "You are loved."

The play weaves daring aerial choreography with hard-hitting dialogue from first-time playwright Ursula Yovic. It shows how intergenerational trauma impacts everyday lives - whether it's dealing with a parent's suicide or copping a racial slur at footy training. 

"I guess to understand that it’s not always a whim for our mob when they do this, it’s not something that’s done for no reason," said Ms Yovich, who also stars in the play. 

"A lot of people in our communities suffer from great trauma, and it’s not just personal trauma – it’s social stigmatisation... but also the historical trauma that our people have to face."

While the performance deals with some heavy themes, creators say the show is ultimately about "finding a reason to hang on when all feels hopeless". 

"We want audiences to see, or anyone who’s even thinking about [suiciding] to see this is what you leave behind," Ms Yovich said. 

"You may get rid of your hurt, but all you do is pass it on to those closest to you, the people that you love the most.

"But also the people that are left behind, it’s about showing that resilience but you can make that choice each day and say I’m gonna power through this."

Mr Bond and his co-director Gavin Robins have been careful to create a culturally-safe environment for the young cast, regularly checking in when the material becomes too intense.

For the actors, the gruelling performance is worthwhile to spark a broader conversation about suicide and mental health.

"Sometimes I feel like it is a bit of a release, and other times it’s a bit hard," Ms Yovich said.

"But it’s worth it to get people to talk and acknowledge that this actually happens.

"And theatre is about empathising, and if you can capture that and get non-Indigenous people to really feel for you then that’s a great thing. It’s saying we’re the same and there’s no real difference."

Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact: Lifeline on 13 11 14, the Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467 or find an Aboriginal Medical Service here. There are resources for young people at Headspace Yarn Safe.

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