*The following review contains references to rape, unavoidable in the context of the show which is about a woman turned into a cockroach taking revenge on sexual predators*
So here we are on a seasonably warm Spring Saturday evening in North Melbourne. Shaved and sober, my Nana would be proud eh. Ready for anything, full of hope. Don’t laugh, I’m actually quite a hopeful person.
Written and directed by Sydney-based (Melbourne-born) playwright Melita Rowston, Cockroach is a feminist updating of Ovid‘s epic narrative poem Metamorphoses, which was first published in 8AD. So that’s two warnings for some of you – ancient poetry and contemporary feminism. Rowston and performer/creator Leah Donovan (known on stage as ‘C’ for cockroach, and K is for Kafka…) have created something that is as relevant now as it would have been over 2010 years ago. Unless you’re part of the ‘Feminists are mean to me’ movement in which case you can go… write your own review.
Cockroach is a musical, a drama, a comedy, a full-tilt piece of in your face stage work. A one woman show that takes few prisoners. Because Ovid was really rapey in his text. Women could either be transformed into trees, fountains, grapes or godknowswhat to avoid rape, or to shut them up after rape; either way there was rape going on. And repeated use of the r-word might make some people uncomfortable. Yes, we’re back to that.
Because so much of the discussion right now is about what words we are and aren’t allowed to use, but sometimes it’s important to be blunt and not gloss over unpleasant truths. Not to hide horror behind semantics. Oh I’m gonna keep going, trouble or not. Not using the word would deflate a lot of the power of the script here in question. And the jokes. Because there are jokes.
How can there be jokes you ask? How can moments of levity be found in a show that states in its own promo text that it’s a revenge fantasy for the #metoo movement? Well, I think it’s important to take into consideration who the butts of the jokes are. To me the jokes are timely, well crafted, and well aimed. But maybe some of the audience on opening night didn’t agree with me, hmm? Well some of us laughed. And I gotta tell you Melbourne, I’ve been told that Sydney audiences weren’t afraid to laugh out loud. Challenge thrown!
There have also, I’m told, been questions about the use of violence to repay violence. Which gets into all sorts of discussion about the history of literature and theatre and why we don’t often question fighting violence with violence when it’s people with penises doing the storytelling. I know, I’m not making friends with some of you right now.
The show weaves its upfrontpunkrock with quieter moments of memory and introspection, moments that has me near tears. (Yes Melita, I did get the feels) Because inside the cockroach there is a woman with memories and sadness and hope. This is one hell of a performance from Leah Donovan. Athletic, balletic, ballistic, funny, crude, layered and human, it’s a work of strength and vital energy. This is not an easy task, as a performance. All that hard work very definitely pays off. Extra big points for the rendition of the classic X-Ray Spex song Oh Bondage! Up Yours! Great song selection overall.
The show works for me as a political piece of theatre. The lead performance is dynamic, the live music by multi-instrumentalist Benito Di Fonzo juxtaposes the spoken words to great effect, without distracting, and the message is bang on point. And Cockroach is often very funny. Yes, I’m restating this. The running grapes gag may change the way you look at that particular fruit for a long time (certainly the way you hear the word). Up the back of the stage Benito’s facial expressions are pretty priceless and made me giggle several times. He serves as a kind of (almost) wordless commentator to the narrative. The Man doesn’t get to talk (oooh). Which clearly is unusual for those of you who know Benito! I kid.
In the end, fuck it, some of you may not like the show. It may make you uncomfortable. One audience member was heard on the way out saying there were parts of the show that were ‘not appropriate’. Having drinks afterwards there was some discussion of whether she was being ironic or not; I guess we’ll never know. Others will love it so much. As I did. Highly recommended, see it while you can.
Cockroach runs nightly until Saturday September 29th in the Warehouse space at Arts House in North Melbourne.
Get your tickets here: https://melbournefringe.com.au/event/cockroach