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Reviews/Music

Hip-hop odyssey tells confronting truths

18 October 2019

Review: Yirra Yaakin Theatre Company, Ice Land: A Hip h’Opera ·
Subiaco Arts Centre, 17 October ·
Review by Gina Williams ·

Don’t let the lush red curtains, the painted ponies and the pretty lights fool you; this production was never going to be about beauty or feeling good. Ice Land: A Hip h’Opera examines the ugly consequences of a society that stops living like a community and begins to function as an economy. As the bottom falls out of the mining boom and the cracks appear in community, our most vulnerable fall into the abyss of ice addiction.

It’s almost midnight in the Emergency Department of Royal Perth Hospital. Unseen staff move slowly as the plot unfolds. Here, we meet Joy (Layla Hanbury), Carly (Moana Lutton aka Moana Mayatrix of West Australian rock band Moana) and Cole (Benjamin Hasler of WA hip-hop group Downsyde). As the title suggests, this is a story told through the densely packed blend of words, song and beats that is hip-hop.

Research has ensured this production has authenticity. Pictured is Layla Hanbury as joy. Photo: Dana Weeks.
Research has ensured this production has authenticity. Pictured is Layla Hanbury as joy. Photo: Dana Weeks.

There’s plenty of drama; Joy’s only child has taken ill and is receiving emergency treatment. Carly is almost driven to distraction with fear as her brother is placed in psychiatric care following a psychotic episode. And Cole is waiting for his critically ill nanna, who is in intensive care.

Collectively they battle a common enemy; methamphetamine addiction. Their stories are held together and moved along deftly by Dnale Ci (Downsyde’s Scott Griffiths). As dealer, devil and seducer combined, Griffiths is compelling to watch; at once menacing and charismatic.

We discover that Joy has fallen into addiction following the rejection of her parents and the loss of a previous pregnancy. She loses her job and significant relationships and supports, leaving her child as the sole reason to continue living.

We learn that Carly’s parents died in a car crash, leaving Carly with her brother. Depression, alcoholism, self harm and domestic violence are never far away.

But Cole has the story which is easiest to relate to and hardest to watch. Cole lives with his nanna, his family torn apart by addiction. The intergenerational trauma is palpable. Cole, the King of Belmont, named “Waarlitj” (Eagle) by his nanna, has swagger to boot. Yet if you dig a little, you’ll find a hurt little boy who is disconnected from culture and community, who was abandoned by his parents and now struggles to articulate what he needs to heal. “I have love to give,” he says, and it’s hard not to feel the sadness.

It’s hard not to feel the sadness: Benjamin Hasler as Cole. Photo Dana Weeks.

Under the clever direction of Kyle J Morrison (King Hit, The Fever and the Fret, Skylab), the performance moves along swiftly. The set and lighting (Matthew McVeigh, Joe Paradise Lui) add to the dramatic effect of the storytelling without distraction.

Of course, the music is fantastic – a real credit to the collective talent of the four cast members/lyricists, and music director Darren Reutens (Downsyde), librettist/lyricist Zac James and lyricist Ryan Samuels aka Trooth. I’d love to see the soundtrack released as a concept album.

For me, the musical highlight was a rare moment when Lutton softly sang to herself and we were treated to one of the most bittersweet, purest voices you’re ever likely to hear. But again, this production was never going to be a thing of beauty and her powerful vocals are undeniable.

Avoiding clichés: Dnale Ci (Scott Griffiths) and Carly (Moana Lutton). Photo: Dana Weeks.

It would be easy to trot out all the regular tropes and clichés around stories of addiction, but Ice Land manages to avoid this. Interviews held for 18 months with various sectors of the community in the lead-up to the creation of Ice Land have informed this production and given it an authenticity it may otherwise have lacked.

Ice Land: A Hip h’Opera was confronting and difficult to watch. But lots of important stories are. At the end of the opening night performance, Scott Griffiths thanked the audience and hoped out loud that “we fill this venue, because we need to start these conversations and we need to start ridding ourselves of this scourge that is ice addiction.”

After watching this production, it’s impossible not to agree.

Iceland: a Hip-h’Opera runs until October 26.

Pictured top: Layla Hanbury and Scott Griffiths. Photo: Dana Weeks.

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