Saturday 23 September 2023

Lily Fish on eating babies in Rakali, a new Australian Gothic houseboat horror (Melbourne Fringe Festival)

When a young couple move into a houseboat in Tasmania's Huon River to raise their baby, the last thing they expect is to be terrorised by a rakali(water-rat). With an incredibly talented team behind the production, Rakali is a new Australian Gothic neo-fable written by Alex Duncan (Five Bedrooms), directed by Alice Darling (The Fence) and starring Lily Fish, John Shearman, and Veronica Thomas. We caught up with the rakali herself, Fish, about taking on this role and how such a group of creatives came together for this Melbourne Fringe Festival show.

"Alex and I had worked together a couple of times in the past and we realised that we were interested in seeing the same sort of theatre: narrative drama that zips along, a thrilling storyline and characters that really attack each other," Fish tells me. "One day I was saying that I wished there was more work like that at the Fringe Festival and he said ‘why don’t I write you one?’ and then, he did it!"

"We’ve joked about it being like a cross between Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Wolf Creek. The dialogue is pacy, sometimes quite funny, and at other times awful in the most delightful way for an audience with super recognisable toxic relationship dynamics," she says. "And of course the concept is totally bananas. A couple living on a houseboat with their baby, and I play a shape shifting Nick Cave-esque water rat that wants to eat the baby. Who comes up with an idea like that?! When Alex pitched it to me I couldn’t believe it. I thought it was the most brilliant, fun, loaded idea ever. How could you say no to a proposal like that, so of course we had to make this.”

"From there, between the two of us, we cobbled together this experienced, epic team. Some people we’ve worked with before, and others are new collaborators. I think it’s a testament to the quality of Alex’s writing and the kookiness of his concept that all these amazing, in demand professionals want to get together and do this weird little Fringe show for basically no money. I’m forever grateful to them all, and I reckon we’re going to make a killer show because of them."

I return back to the "shapeshifting Nick Cave-esque water rat who wants to eat the baby" statement. Having seen Fish perform in previous clown and physical theatre settings, I ask if this is the most warped / twisted role she's had, and the answer is surprising, but also not. "Well I have played a lot of oddball characters over the years. I was the arms for the Vampire Butt Puppet in PO PO MO CO’s Nosfer-ARSE-tu and I used to do an act dressed as a Catholic school boy where I’d strip to Nick Cave’s "Stagger Lee" and then turn myself into a Golden Gaytime. But yeah, I guess the Rakali is up there. Although to be fair to him, he’s just an animal. He’s not a figure of evil or anything, but a normal old hungry carnivorous water rat looking for a tasty snack. If you were a hungry water rat wouldn’t you want to eat a soft little baby?"

Despite this macabre comedy element to the show, Fish points out that while there are funny moments present, it would be incorrect to label Rakali as a comedy. "It speaks to the fragility of the heteronormative nuclear family ideal and how tenuous it is, particularly for people who have strived for better gender equality within their relationships prior to having children," she explains. "I am an AFAB (assigned female at birth) queer person, an artist, and a parent, and I see my own experiences, and those of my friends’ reflected astutely here in a way that doesn’t shy away from complex questions. Why, as a mother, am I expected to prioritise my child over my arts practice or career? Is it possible to equally divide domestic labour between parents when an infant is involved? What does it mean to be a ‘good’ parent? Who should get to have children?"

"One of the other wonderful things about Rakali is that it is focusing on what Millennials are getting up to now that most of us are exiting our Fleabag phase. We’re not (always) carefree little trash monsters anymore. We’re adults, choosing to make or not make families, staring down the barrel of non-homeownership, trying hard not to be assholes but sometimes still being an asshole. I like that Rakali exists for and about the type of person I am now."

Fish established herself in the performing arts scene through her devised physical theatre work but before she studied clown, she was a student of scripted, traditional theatre and is looking forward to going back to those roots with Rakali. "I am mainly known for PO PO MO CO and also Red Nose Clown stuff that I make with Kimberley Twiner. But my first love, and the beginning of my journey towards physical theatre, was scripted ‘normal’ theatre and I studied at The National Theatre Drama School. I did the three-year full time course and actually, the first time I met Alex was just after I’d graduated. We were doing a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. He was playing Bottom and I was playing Puck. Needless to say we were both very good," she laughs.

"Over the years I’ve done a number of different plays, but certainly the bulk of my work is in the devised space. But I adore text and all sorts of theatre, both as an audience member and a player. I am obsessed with moving in different dynamics, exploring different ways of being, the rhythmical dance of sharing a stage, the magic of collective make believe. It’s the best job in the world, and I find it infinitely creative and stimulating regardless of whether I generate the text myself, or have it given to me on a page," she tells me. "It is exciting to know that for many people this will be their first time seeing me in ‘normal’ theatre. It does feel like a bit of a cheeky reveal, ‘oh yes, I can do this too’.


1) My favourite meal is impossible to pick. But I shall say ramen, because there is a wicked place right near Trades Hall - Hakata Gensuke - and I will definitely be spending more time there than I should during Fringe. They are not kidding around on the spicy level for the God Fire. Consider yourself warned.
2) A TV show I would like to be cast in is The White Lotus. Brilliant characters and storylines. And the locations!!!! Sign me up.
3) A little known skill I have is I used to be a boom operator in the film industry. That’s right, if you need someone to hold a heavy stick over their head for 30-120 seconds, I could probably still do it.
4) My proudest professional moment is from 2020, right before covid lockdowns. I went to New Zealand Fringe with PO PO MO CO, and I also took my solo show Jofus and the Plank. PO PO MO CO won Best Ensemble and Jofus won Best Solo. That felt pretty special.
And then, during lockdown my housemates and I used to dance on our front lawn everyday, to entertain ourselves and the neighbourhood. People loved it so much they’d schedule their day around coming past, and they’d bring us chocolates and prosecco. It felt like the perfect combination of completely silly and strangely deeply meaningful.
5) Happiness is the warmth of stage lights and a full house.

Show Details

Venue: Trades Hall, Cnr Lygon & Victoria Sts, Carlton
Season: 18 - 22 October | Wed - Sat 8:00pm, Sun 7:00pm
Duration: 60 minutes
Tickets: $30 Full | $25 Concession | Hump Day Discount (Wednesday) $22.50
Bookings: Melbourne Fringe Festival

Image Credit: Dash Sharon 

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