Storytelling is an important part of the human experience, as old as time itself people have regaled their journey and their experience to the next generation through the art of the spoken word. head/lining, currently showing at the Pleasance Downstairs, is the vehicle that Charlie Heptinstall has chosen to tell his story, to speak his truth in his words. He does this through a variety of performance styles and genres including spoken word, indie rock, poetry and direct to audience delivery.
head/lining is a self-penned semi-autobiographical deep dive into, our protagonist, Charlie. The piece opens and closes at an AA Meeting. A perfect setting for Charlie to share his story. He is there to absolve his sins, to make sense of his life, to share his pain and navigate his experience and to heal.
I’ve never been to an AA meeting myself, but I recognise the format, Charlie has the chair, he is there to bear all, to share his truth: the story of a cis white working-class man; a victim of abuse, a boyfriend, a diabetic, a son, a lover, a friend, a victim, a singer, a fighter, a poet, a student, a homeless person, and a survivor.
With a running time of an hour, the piece is punchy and fast-moving and if I’m honest, it could easily be extended. The ending came far too soon for me.
Heptinstall has cleverly created a narrative that is woven together through performance styles and mixed arts. Each stage of his journey is signposted by a new delivery vehicle, be that poetry, spoken word, indie rock (with the guitarist on stage). His performance style is accessible and believable. A very talented actor, Heptinstall portrays many characters throughout the piece, he morphs with ease in and out of several characters from his life. We meet his alcoholic abusive father, his cheery therapist, his girlfriends and his mother, Heptinstall performs all of these roles with care and perceived accuracy rather than a caricature. It adds another dimension to the piece seeing a duologue performed by one person rather than having two actors on the stage, and it worked especially well here.
The piece doesn’t rely on complicated sets designs, or props, the staging, like the narrative, is raw and is very much about the words and their delivery style, the language and its loquacity. Heptinstall carries the piece well, he is speaking for almost the full hour without many spaces for rest or pauses, yet his delivery remains controlled.
The piece is hard to watch due to the themes, but, it’s also really accessible – it’s somewhat multi-layered and may trigger some audience members. However, it is also written in a way that allows those who have related experiences to go in deeper, yet at the same time not alienate those audience members who have not.
Although Charlie’s story is peppered with pain, abuse and suicide attempts there is a sense of hope about the piece, a desire for life and an expression for the value of art as a healing tool. I’d be very keen to see more of Charlie’s work, be that as a singer, poet, spoken word artist or actor.
Review by Faye Stockley
For the white working-class peeps and the men in particular,
This tale is a word of warning,
Your pink sky in the morning.
You can do anything with words…
In a profound and thrilling mix of music and storytelling, head/lining is a lyrical deep dive inside the mind of an ordinary white boy as he comes to terms with his noxious upbringing and orbits mental breakdown.
A crackling indie rock gig that tears itself open to confront fragments of society, family and self, this fearless one-person play grapples with class, identity and prejudice in modern Britain.
Performed by Charlie Heptinstall and Jordan El-Balawi
Written by Charlie Heptinstall
Directed by Matt Strachan
Composed by Dan Follows
Movement Directed by Tessa Guerrero
27th Jul 2021 – 30th Jul 2021
Downstairs – Pleasance London
Suitable for ages 18 and above