head/lining is sensuously punk rock. That is the best way to describe Knuckledown’s performance at the Pleasance Theatre. It is punk rock in the way that violins at an indie rock concert are, and it is punk rock in the way that rap really is nothing other than poetry.
head/lining is not that – it is not quite rap and it is not quite an indie rock concert (although it comes close). It falls under the category of an intimate spoken word evening but performed with the help of Jordan El-Balawi who strums away on guitar and violin. It is the story of a “white boy” (Charlie Heptinstall) who grew into a man within a toxic environment and with toxic people around him. He now finds himself digging deep to get to the root of his mental health problems.
We meet him when he is twelve, fourteen and sixteen – growing up on a council estate, discovering his love for poetry and words and eager to share his story. Would he be the guy he is today if not for his parents’ divorces, his alcoholic father and depressed mother? Where do his anger, attachment and substance issues stem from? head/lining does not simply answer these questions – Heptinstall takes us on a journey to meet his past-self and come along on his self-exploration.
In the middle of the loud, rhythmic show is Heptinstall shapeshifting from one character into the next. One second, he is playing his girlfriend Mol practising her punches on his chest and face, the next he is slipping into the role of his own father criticising him for writing poetry. And then there are those moments in which Heptinstall turns on his metronome, puts his hand on his forehead and slides into a beautiful stream of words arranged in enthralling and rhythmic order – poetry. The lights dim, the stage is painted in orange colours, and El-Balawi strums away on his guitar while Heptinstall expresses the thoughts in his head through spoken word poetry.
In his red bomber jacket, Heptinstall delves into his past to find out where it all started – the depression, the anger issues and the substance abuse. But, instead of treating it as a dark, and sombre subject with negative connotations, he wraps it into a beautiful discovery of himself – expressed through spoken word, indie rock music, open-mic comedy, and of course his monologue which is delivered directly to us – his audience.
The only thing that can be criticised about this deeply insightful and wonderfully melodic performance is the volume of El-Balawi’s amplifier, albeit creating an undeniable concert atmosphere. And so, it only goes to say: “Trouble is a lifelong thing” – the moral of Charlie Heptinstall’s head/lining.
head/lining is playing at the Pleasance Theatre until 30 July 2021. For more information and tickets visit Pleasance Theatre’s website.