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Review: Rakali at Festival Hub - Melbourne Fringe Festival

Review by Thomas Gregory

There is something naively romantic about packing it all up and moving onto a houseboat far from modern civilisation. Of course, you can’t get much further from modern civilisation than by moving to Tasmania. While few of us would actually survive such a lifestyle, we all think about it at least once in our lives, making it a wonderful premise for a show.

An even better premise would be a show about a water rat that becomes human in the hope of being able to steal a baby. That sounds like an amazing show.

Rakali is both of these and so much more.

“Rocko”, the water rat in question, is played with astounding physicality by Lily Fish and is why you should not miss this show. Fish captures the very essence of the animal perfectly, even when “as a human” and under the direction of Alice Darling, keeps the performance sincere. Nothing is funnier than characters who don’t know it is a joke.

If I wanted to waffle, here I would probably spend a few hundred words comparing Rakali to “Heart of a Dog”, “The Talented Mr Ripley”, or “Samsa in Love”, but hopefully referencing them at all is enough of a compliment to the writing, direction, and acting in Rakali.

Kevin and Emma are the couple who moved to this river with their newborn, becoming the focus of our clever water rat. They are, in a word, privileged. With problematic views about, well, everything and a clear disdain for each other, they are not handling the first months of parenthood well and are happy for the distraction that is their new neighbour. They ignore how he mimics them, how he isn’t entirely sure how to converse, or his fascination with their newborn. Instead, they force their troubles on him in that narcissistic way that only white-collar professionals seem to know how.

John Shearman and Veronica Thomas are brilliant as the couple in question, hitting both comedic and tragic marks every time. It is difficult not to hate Shearman’s Kevin, but with a mild tinge of embarrassment for him, while Thomas’ Emma is a tragic hero from the very beginning, and we only wait to see how she might fall.

The set of Rakali is perfectly balanced for a production of this nature. A few benches and rope make the houseboat deck perfectly, while everything outside is accepted as water. The incredible sound and lighting design does the rest of the work to produce idyllic mornings, raging storms, or the terror of a baby’s cry.

My problem with Rakali, and it may only be my own, is in just how sincerely the issues facing Emma and Kevin are treated. This makes for brilliantly uncomfortable comedy, yes, but these discussions of gender expectations, parenthood, and the fallibility of privilege come with a price - an expectation of a thesis. I cannot help but ask, what are the thematic statements made in this show? Are the creators taking a fatalistic stance? What do they expect from mothers?

Ultimately, I find myself easily letting go of this problem and any philosophical questions the play raises. As a comedic thriller of the highest degree, this show can afford to say “Who cares if it doesn’t make sense to you right now, enjoy it”.

Rakali’s season is nearly sold out already. Snatch a remaining ticket while you still can.

Image Credit: Tom Noble


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