Home » London Theatre Reviews » head/lining written by Charlie Heptinstall at Pleasance Theatre | Review

head/lining written by Charlie Heptinstall at Pleasance Theatre | Review

Well, there is an electric guitar on stage, and it does get used, but it’s hardly ear-splitting stuff, and this is, in the end, more ‘play’ than ‘gig’. head/lining is a gloriously unpolitical story of a young man in contemporary Britain that tells it like it is – family relations that are far from the near-eternal bliss of The Waltons, and a father who tells the narrator character identified only as E (Charlie Heptinstall) that his creative writing is “gay”. Of course, it naturally follows that anyone that disagrees with the idea of still using the term ‘gay’ in a derogatory manner in this day and age is acceptable can “f—k off”, though I take it this will hardly come as a surprise to the LGBT+ community, who will have heard it all before.

head/lining – Photographer Danny Kaan.

E happens to be straight: his personal relationships suffer, at least partly thanks to parental influences. He tries to help his mother, who is housebound for reasons explained in the storyline (not pandemic-related) but is strongly rebuffed. There wasn’t much in the way of boundaries – in what appeared to be a regular occurrence, his father would initially ask E, when he was at secondary school, to be back by a reasonable time, only to give him some money for food and drink and give him a much later time to be back by.

Largely left to his own devices, E falls into the ‘wrong’ crowd, and strikes up friendships with other youngsters whose home lives are also more than a little chaotic. The play takes the form of a ‘share’ at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, with dramatized flashbacks to various key points in E’s life, not necessarily in chronological order. At times lines are spoken at borderline breakneck speed, which is, on reflection, commensurate with the vigour and vitality of youth as well as the scattered thoughts of someone who has much to say but doesn’t quite know how to say it all, or even if he should say it all. True enough, he occasionally abandons a point he was about to make, which adds to the authenticity of the show.

It is also incredibly detailed – and, with Heptinstall voicing every character, entire conversations are captured convincingly with different accents, tones and mannerisms. None are caricatured. Jordan El-Balawi plays guitar and fiddle (not at the same time) at various points, accompanying E’s songs, whose lyrics often have depth. These contrast well with some schoolboy poetry, which aren’t exactly shallow, especially given that it is schoolboy poetry, and provide further insight into E’s thought processes and how he developed as a person over the years.

It is not always an easy or comfortable watch, though the various delivery styles and techniques mean the production is far less exhausting than it would be had it gone down the road of being an hour-long monologue. Heptinstall has an appealing stage presence – one wants to hear what he has to say, if only because there aren’t very many stories like this one on stage, talking freely about the challenges faced by someone who wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his mouth.

What’s best about it – for me – is a lack of sentimentality. This isn’t a sobby ‘backstory’ on one of those Saturday evening televised talent contests, attempting to elicit more votes in a telephone ballot. One of those shows that crams a lot into an hour, leaving the audience wanting more, which is always better than outlasting one’s welcome. Much food for thought in this absorbing coming of age story.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

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
6:30pm, 8:40pm
Suitable for ages 18 and above


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