Review | ‘Ice Land’ Yirra Yaakin’s raw and real hip h’Opera

Ice Land | Subiaco Arts Centre | Until 26 October | ★ ★ ★ ★  

Director Kyle J Morrison has pulled off an ambitious project with sees the indigenous theatre company teaming up with hip hop band Downsyde to create a gritty musical about the scourge of methamphetamines across society.

In a simple setting we meet a variety of characters who share their stories of how the drug has affected their lives, and the interwoven challenges they’ve faced. Ice Land does not shy away from the big issues including domestic violence, grief and unemployment. It is a raw, gritty and unforgiving story.

To create the work the collaborators drew upon hundreds of interviews from people who have been affected by the ice epidemic, from people who use drugs, to counsellors, politicians and emergency service workers.  While the characters in the show look at themselves through mirrors, this work holds up a mirror to our society.

While the proposal of a musical about drugs does have an element of ‘rock eisteddfod’, what catapults this into a different category is the amazing talent that’s been assembled to create the work.

Directed by Kyle J Morrison Ice Land brings to the stage Scott Griffiths (Optamus from Downsyde) and Benjamin Hasler (Beni Bjah from Downsyde), Layla Handbury, Moana Lutton (Moana Maytarix from local band Moana), all four have contributed music and lyrics to the project.

The combined talent of this cast is impressive and they have a variety of different sounds that meld together to create a soundscape that highlights their individual strengths.

Behind the scenes the list of talent contributors continues,  Ryan Samuels (Trooth) and Zac James are the additional lyricists, Downsyde’s Darren Reutens, aka Dazastah, is the musical director, Andrew Bovell has served as dramaturg and Laura Boynes has contributed choreography.

Through the journey we hear the stories of several people whose lives have been impacted by the drug, Griffith’s is Dnale Ci, a dealer and distributor of the drug, or is he the drug itself? Layla plays Joy, a nurse who suffers a miscarriage, and then loses her job, Moana is Carly a woman who’s parent’s have been killed in a car crash leaving her and her brother (also portrayed by Optamus) to cope with grief and loss, while Hasler is Cole.

These hard hitting stories show us that drug dependency comes not from the simple ‘lack of will power’ and ‘peer pressure’ that is often the centre of anti-drug campaign, but because of a myriad of life’s tragedies. These are people struggling to survive. Self harm, domestic violence, alcoholism, and poverty are all explored in the unforgiving work.

The mega successful musical Hamilton showed us that the world of hip hop and theatre can successfully combine, and watching this work I couldn’t help but wonder how spectacular it could be with the budgets that are given to opera works and mainstream musicals. It would be fabulous to see this mounted in that kind of staging.

The four artists feature deliver performances that are world-class and if they’d been selling the concept album of this work in the foyer of the theatre I’d have purchased a copy at the interval.

Ice Land is a wonderfully ambitious and confronting work that achieves its lofty goals. It’s careful to present a picture of life, free of moralising messages and lectures. Let’s hope that all the religious leaders, politicians and media personalities who harp on about the solution to drug addiction being a simple case of ‘stop taking drugs’ go and see this powerful work.

Ice Land  is at the Subiaco Theatre Centre until 26th October. 

Graeme Watson