Sunday 22 October 2023

Rakali review (Melbourne Fringe Festival)

A seachange is said to be an effective way to reassess what you value most in life and to gain new perspectives. But what about a riverchange? For Emma, Kevin and their four-month-old baby, it could be a devastating decision. On the surface, Australian gothic horror Rakali depicts a couple being terrorised by a water rat intent on eating their baby, but dive deeper and it's a sharp commentary on parenthood and family.

Alex Duncan's script may live in the realms of absurdity but it firmly establishes its world early on and we can accept this wild river-ride. We are kept guessing the entire time if the baby will be eaten whenever the rakali is nearby. Duncan fuses horror, comedy and drama into a tight 60 minutes as we learn about the conflicts and struggles that Emma and Kevin are facing externally and internally.

John Shearman and Veronica Thomas as the husband and wife bring strong familiarity and connection with each other in their performances; this is a couple that know each other well despite not really understanding each other. Thomas has always impressed with past roles and continues to do so with Emma, adding subtlety to the frustrations and the sadness for the missed opportunities she is having due to looking after a child in a society that doesn't make allowances for mothers and careers. She can't fathom being away from her child for even a few hours but Kevin is more than happy – and able - to go out fishing with his new best friend. Shearman brings out the pressures that Kevin has in being labelled as the provider of a family when he is not ready for that responsibility. Even with all the stunts that he pulls, we don't despise Kevin and see him as a product of the patriarchy and how broken our systems are.

While Shearman and Thomas are outstanding, it's the other two casting choices that highlight the absurd in Rakali, with a Market Lane Coffee hessian sack playing the baby and Lily Fish playing the shape-shifting water-rat. Fish's skill in clown and bouffon guides this performance and it's an incredibly consistent and strangely honest portrayal of someone working hard towards their goal. Fish finds ways of introducing and instilling human tendencies and expressions into "Rocco" as he begins to assimilate to the way of humans and befriending Emma and Kevin.

The set design is minimal but well considered given the space and the festival atmosphere. Some ropes and benches paint the bones of a houseboat but the rest is correctly left to us to use our imagination, which allows for what is happening in this production to be readily embraced. Alice Darling's direction creates a claustrophobic ambience while not locking the cast into the one space. The build up to the suspenseful finale is playful and unnerving to watch.

There are many questions Rakali raises. Questions around what makes a good parent, what makes a good mother and why must we sacrifice so much of what brings us joy once we have a child? These are not questions that can be answered and the show doesn't attempt to, but it provides the time for us to contemplate these through a deliciously entertaining show.

Click here
for our interview with Lily Fish.

Show Details

Venue: Trades Hall, Cnr Lygon & Victoria Sts, Carlton
Season: until 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: Tom Noble 

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