Fire in the Head - La Mama Theatre

Fire in the Head - La Mama Theatre

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Posted 2022-06-26 by Donna Sue Robsonfollow

Fri 27 May 2022



Fire in the Head is the story of Ned Kelly's sister, Kate Kelly. Tragic and biographical, Kate's tale provides a feminine response and context to the accepted version of the Kelly drama. The audience is forced to walk in the shoes of a young woman grappling with shame, stigma, grief, alcohol abuse, a crisis of faith and inescapable sexual terror. This is all against the horror of state-sanctioned violence. Victoria, in the 19th Century, is a society buckling under its own search for identity: it is a bloody battlefield scattered with class, cultural, racial and gender casualties.

Through the eyes of Kate Kelly and La Mama's brilliant actor chorus, we see that poverty and criminal conviction ran through the Kelly ancestral line. This was grand entrapment. Helplessness and hopelessness were endemic and tragedy seemed pre-determined. It was simply a case of how the details were going to play out.



The early departure of Kate's father, Red Kelly, turned Ned into the male provider and family protector. When Kate's 'honour' was mercilessly threatened by the lecherous Constable Fitzgerald, Ned stepped forward and fought. From that moment, he became a marked man and enemy of the British establishment. This episode, omitted from official ledgers, illustrates the absence of women's rights and revealed that the threat of sexual assault was an ever-present and acceptable part of Colonial life.

Sexual abuse and gender violence was a theme throughout Kate's marriage and life, which culminated in a 'mysterious' drowning that was never followed up by State authorities. Kate was forgotten and her voice omitted from history books.

Fire in the Head is emotionally intense and disturbing because of the relentless interplay of personal, familial and social tragedies. Kate fought for Ned's life to be spared; was forced into hiding with an alias name; and pinned her hopes on marriage. She made every attempt to escape the past - from which she never could escape. Our only relief was to be a part of the audience, watching from the window of the 21st Century. And yet, Fire in the Head gives our present-day battles with sexual assault a terrifying backstory. Fire in the Head is raw and makes our modern-day challenges all the more important.



Fire in the Head poses fascinating reflections through character choices and clever stylistic ploys. For example, (in a similar way to 'Meet Joe Black') there is a character called 'Death'. He is Kate's sounding board and potential relief. 'Dates with Death' are coiled in secrecy, and this a relationship that builds both trust and tension. In this performance Roxy Tamlin played 'Kate' and Amesh Edireweera, played 'Death'. Both lead actors were extraordinary given that they had only 24-hours to prepare as the original leads were hit with COVID. Even though Roxy and Amesh read from the script, their superlative acting skills meant that this did not distract or mitigate the script's emotional intensity.

Paul Robertson is riveting as Kate's husband, 'Bricky'. His powerful charisma protruded, even as he sat motionless with his back to the audience. Waking and walking forward, he not only embodied 'Bricky', but also the terrifying complexity of perpetrator abuse. It was a brilliant performance.


The chorus, Milijana & #268 ;an& #269 ;ar, Huw Jennings and Dennis Coard were not only slick, 'populist narrators', but became Red Kelly (Dennis Coard) and Ned Kelly (Huw Jennings). Milijana & #268 ;an& #269 ;ar too, offered a spellbinding memory of Ellen Kelly (Kate's Mum). Costumed in black, this trio are 'the crowd scenes', 'historical records' and provided 'voyeur commentaries'. Their emotional breadth extended to become joyous, riotous players in an Irish Pub. Here, Peter O'Shea whose fiddle playing gave the Kelly family their Irish song, dance and culture, was the scene-stealer. The rapid and seamless transformations of the supporting cast offered hope that in this story- surely too, there can be a transformation?


Power is the real story. It runs through both the script and performance, and direction is innovative. As the pace picked up and the end drew nigh, Bricky and Kate, faced the audience as they spoke to each other, in conversation. Suddenly, they were in dialogue with the audience and we had become an integral part of 'the unravel'. This increased the show's intensity, intimacy with the audience and our investment in these characters. Director Rodney Hall milks emotion by crossing boundaries of privacy. It was yet another 'power moment' as we were forced to grapple with personal and social responsibility for violence against women and the tyranny of social compliance. Writer R. Johns can once again be proud of La Mama's exploration of his exquisite drama. The real tragedy of this performance was that it was for one-night-only.

#brunswick
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#may
!date 27/05/2022 -- 27/05/2022
%wnmelbourne
171333 - 2023-06-15 08:43:57

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