Visceral and heart wrenchingly sincere Charlie Heptinstall’s head/lining is a tightly packed 50 minutes that feels much shorter. We are dragged into the depths of E’s (Heptinstall) soul, all the painful, broken bits are pulled out and examined, for our entertainment and education. Heptinstall hits many points that any working class white kid will recognise. The casual racism, excessive drinking, and distant parents are not a unique story, though no less tragic in their truth. His desire to express softer emotions is crushed early on and replaced with a hard shell of indifference, hiding a vulnerable centre of empathy, curiosity and creativity. This inability to express himself combined with trauma drives him to drink and depression.
Matt Strachan’s direction cleverly places the audience in E’s shoes throughout the play. As he sits side on to talk to the various characters he embodies, they do not, instead facing directly out towards us.. Conversations take place between E and a police officer, his mum, friend, therapist, but it feels as if they are talking directly to us; imploring us to change our life, get out of the house, fuck off, or open up, respectively.
Musician Jordan El-Balawi is a constant, silent, support providing the soundtrack to E’s life. E’s eyes often reach for him in moments of crisis, for reassurance and comradery. They bounce off each other and share a sort of trust and respect that speaks of longstanding friendship and deep kinship. The pair are perfectly in sync and their transitions from the songs/spoken word poetry that is E’s internal monologue into the more conversational style of storytelling Heptinstall uses in between are smooth and feel natural and unforced.
E’s life is saved only when he is given time and space to shed this shell and become who he has always been. There is learning to be done and progress to be made but his sincerity shows his heart of gold. head/lining has a lot to say about our current culture, men’s mental health in particular and it does not shy away from upsetting topics, but it still manages to end on a hopeful note and have laugh out loud moments throughout.