15
May
12

The Rat Trap

The Rat Trap

Polytoxic & Queensland Theatre Company @ The Greenhouse

Bille Brown Studio

10th – 26th May 2012

Reviewed by Michelle Bull

In a dimly lit corner glistens the muscled physique of a Burlesque King come doorman. He watches intensely as a set of wide-eyed twins chatter and titter girlishly to the audience. A giant anchor dangles from above while Pacific culture is mounted phallic-ally on the wall beside a table laden with champagne…It’s Friday night and we’re here to spend the evening at The Rat Trap, a candy-coloured Tiki bar, that’s steamy, playful and more than a little bit cheeky.

Blending elements of dance, burlesque, circus, vaudeville and physical theatre, Polytoxic’s latest creation divulges tales of five characters caught in the sultry bordello of The Rat Trap. Stripping back to reveal a narrative that mashes pop culture with the Pacific; they whoop, wine and gyrate through high flying burlesque, airborne martial art fight sequences and breathtaking acrobatics, all serving as fitting expressions for their despair, delight and innate penchant for mischief.

Co-Created by Polytoxic and renowned physical theatre and circus director Anni Davey, it is clear that this playful production is determined to challenge, shock and delight its audience. With a soundtrack that takes us straight to the sticky backbench of a seedy bordello in the backstreets of Harlem, The Rat Trap is a visual and aural feast from start to finish. From the moment the doors of the Billie Brown Studio are locked and we meet our host for the evening JanUri, (a delightful diva in drag that to quote one audience member has “better legs than Barbie”), we are lured into the intoxicating world and the delightful ruckus that follows.

Ever the perfect hostess, JanUri (Fez Fa’anana) makes a glorious entrance clothed in a hooded robe and stiletto boots that add to this vaudeville superstar’s commanding presence and absolute magnetism. Destined for the spotlight and effortlessly sexy, JanuUri serves as ringmaster to the characters that take to the boards, as well as instigating much of the mischief that follows. Fez Fa’anana is riveting to watch in the role; his energy and dynamism make for an elegant yet cheeky performance that demonstrates his technical skill without any compromise to theatrical honesty. With strong character development and a clear commitment to the role throughout, it is clear just how much this performer loves his craft!

Helena and Marlena (Lisa Fa’alafi & Leah Shelton) are the next to appear. Siamese twins and all round diva femme fatales, they begin with a tale of a violent separation due to a freak boat anchor incident at sea. Playing out their anxiety upon the ropes (and lips) of the bordello stage, in tandem voice and turn of verse they tell their tale in a style that is reminiscent of a Greek chorus and schoolyard rhyme rolled into one. Particularly charming is the telling of a tale where their kimono robes double as a storyboard, such a unique and kitsch storytelling device! Both these performers show innate comic timing and a beautiful embodiment of their roles both emotionally and physically. In addition to possessing great technical skill in the physicality of their roles, the energy in their ensemble work was electric, and showed a true connection to character and narrative. Equally as strong as their duo are their solo moments, where we get a glimpse of another dimension of their characters and individual journey.

Maurice (Natano Fa’anana), father of the twins, Samoan chief and survivor of the Pacific slave trade is equally compelling in his role and adds a wonderful weight to the chaos around him. Maurice’s Pacific inspired dance and aerial routine, was stunning and had the audience dropping their drinks and jaws at Fa’nana’s physical skill and artistic expression. Never far from the chaos, the character of Maurice is constantly drawn into the rowdiness of his companions but his efforts to maintain composure amidst the commotion make him compelling to watch. Fa’anana quietly commands your attention with his portrayal of this role and performs with grace and theatrical honesty.

The dangerously handsome doorman Mohito (Mark Winmill), and his sparkling…personality were also hard to ignore. Cheeky as a five year old with sticky fingers and just as passionate, he ordered the attention of his audience with all but a devilish glint of his eye.  His ‘anchor’ aerial act was quite the showstopper, and immediately showcased this assured performers strength and physical expertise. Dramatically, Winmill performed with a fiery and roguish charm that made him utterly convincing in the role.

For all its glitter and grime, there is an abundance of touching moments in The Rat Trap, as we are given glimpses into the underbelly of these characters. Aided by the use of tastefully composed multimedia and a simplistic approach to choreography, moments of theatrical significance are ‘book-ended’ and given reverence without compromising the high energy flow of the production. My only disappointment in this production was that at times parts of the set were not visible from where I was seated. That being said, the space was used to it’s potential with the performers performing inclusively through the space, but with such a fantastic set and multiple performers onstage at all times I was greedy for more!

Overall this show is a fantastic offering by Polytoxic Dance Company. It cultivates a sense of danger, spontaneity and excitement within its audience that serves as a timely reminder of what is so thrilling about live theatre! The physical skill of each performer along with their dedication to a rich narrative, loyalty to ensemble and character driven drama makes The Rat Trap a mishmash of mischief too good to miss!

Following The Rat Trap on Friday night, Queensland Theatre Company’s Greenhouse program NightGarden welcomed us back into the world. Emerging from the show buzzing with excitement and wandering into a fairy lit garden where the wine flowed as fast as the post show chitchat was a brilliant way to share the experience with other audience members and fellow creatives descending upon the space for the nights festivities. Billed as “a visceral hothouse of art, ideas and exploration” the NightGarden treated us to pop up performances by Anywhere Theatre Festival participants  Instantaneous Associated: Define and SeeD Theatre Productions, as well as musical stylings by Michelle Xen & The Neon Wild. This new little hotspot is a fantastic hub of creativity and a wonderful way to share a wine or two with like-minded souls, not to mention a splendid way to end a magical night.

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