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ICE LAND: A HIP H’OPERA @ Subiaco Arts Centre gets 8/10


Ice Land: A Hip h’Opera 
@ Subiaco Arts Centre

Thursday, October 17, 2019

8/10

Ice Land: A Hip h’Opera is a ground-breaking work with a local focus that has a lot to say about a topical subject in a distinctively West Aussie fashion. Combining hip hop with opera might seem like a controversial endeavour, but it makes so much sense as a storytelling format in our landscape. Rap and hip hop have always told the stories of minorities and the downtrodden, and as a performative art, it translates brilliantly and brutally onto the stage.

Meth addiction in our state is at epidemic levels, and Downsyde have combined forces with Yirra Yaakin to speak truth to the powers that be about it. They spent years collecting stories from people with experiences of addiction, whether they were first-hand accounts from addicts or from their families or health workers, and have constructed a truly unique hip hop opera from amalgamating these stories into a piece of truly memorable theatre. It is loud, locally relevant and incredibly constructed. Nothing less than you’d expect from such major local legends, really.

Presented as an anthology of stories, the storyline is constructed from lived experiences, and presented without a filter. These are raw stories, told as they should be – with visceral truth bombs dropped without a care. Moana Mayatrix’s vocals are sheer perfection as she cries to the heavens for salvation as Carly, a woman broken by her brother’s addiction. She bemoans losing him to meth after already losing their parents in a car crash and feeling responsible for him. She is mind-meltingly talented with the most phenomenal vocal range and is a wonder to behold.

Her onstage presence is undeniably a scene-stealer, only upstaged by Layla. The women own this entire show. Between Moana and Layla, the latter making a comeback after a hiatus that left her sorely missed, it’s a woman’s world in Ice Land, and definitely their time to shine. Layla’s turn as Joy, who has resorted to dealing meth to feed her child, is poignant and a stunning return to form for a consummate artist who is surprisingly completely unaware of her own power. She offers up a deeply layered performance which is so utterly believable that we ride the rollercoaster of her journey as a willing passenger. Layla draws the audience in completely while acknowledging the fragility of her character.

Benjamin Hasler made history in 2016 as the first Noongar artist to win a WAM Song of the Year with his song Survivor and has proved to be a force which warrants reckoning since he began his career with Downsyde. Playing Cole, who has dealt with trauma since his childhood and grew up in less than ideal circumstances, Hasler’s acting chops come to the fore but it’s his smooth moves as he positively glides across the stage physically while dealing out some velvety rhymes that really prove him to be the king.

It’s unfortunate that Optamus’ performance as meth himself is so overacted and forced it’s distracting, but given that this is an opera it is forgivable. Opera is dramatic, and so it should be even when it’s constructed for the street. Allowable, given the art form emulated and translated into West Aussie in the most poignant theatre you’ll see onstage in 2019. It’s an important conversation that’s largely being ignored, and huge kudos to Yirra Yaakin and Downsyde for opening up the dialogue in a powerful way.

NATALIE GILES

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