DEMOLITION + mid-2021 round-up

Last November, we were finally back in(!) a(!) theatre(!) for a sold-out season of Apocalipstick! at Metro Arts. It seems like both a million years and one minute since that time, but Polytoxic have not rested on their lockdown laurels. They’re back with a brand new show for Brisbane Festival: DEMOLITION. Here’s my (brief) two cents on Polytoxic’s not-to-be-missed new show:

DEMOLITION has all the good stuff you want — feats of strength, mid-air hula-hooping, synchronised intersectionality, a very ascendable set and a microphone in an Ice Break bottle — but is at its best when its high-octane acts turn in on themselves and embrace the uncanny.

This is a very different show from APOCALIPSTICK! (Metro Arts 2020); DEMOLITION is focused on ‘getting shit done — by the tonne’. The Polytoxic crew is unafraid to let its audience sit with — even help lift — its heavier moments. While there’s cheekiness and fun in DEMOLITION, its strongest scenes let the audience do the work, blurring the juxtaposition of feminist send-up with the actual injustice underneath.

Lisa Fa’alafi wears hi-vis gear and holds a nail gun in front of a demolition site.

You’ll find yourself laughing and whooping and then, suddenly, examining what made you laugh and — just as quickly — weeping or raging. The performers make a lot of noise in this show — after all, it’s circus! — but I’ve never heard the scream, the cry, the yawp deployed with such power and nuance.

Co-directors Lisa Fa’alafi (pictured; photo by Joel Devereux) and Leah Shelton kick arse, and Ghenoa Gela, Lilikoi Kaos and Mayu Muto were stand-outs. All DEMOLITION lacks is a little more levity at its denouement; after the thoughtful, affecting rollercoaster of its various feats, the audience needs to be lifted back up just a little more — called to affirmative action, maybe — before we toddle back out into the foyer. (However, once there, you can and will buy 👊-themed stubbie coolers, pins and tees.)

DEMOLITION runs from 4–11 September at Brisbane Powerhouse. 💥💥💥


And, as for the link round-up, here’s what happened while I avoided Zoom during the first half of this year:


Coming up:

  • I’m running a Qld Poetry workshop on the possibilities of choose-your-own-adventure poems in Twine. It’s called WE CONTAIN MULTITUDES and will include re-drafting exercises and a tiny bit of coding. It runs online on 12 and again on 23 September and will be low-key, fun and breakout-room free.
  • In November, Bec and I will be dusting off our evening wear to perform BACHELORETTE: A SONG CYCLE at RuckusFest (just in time to debrief on Brooke’s upcoming queer season of The Bachelorette!).

CABARET REVIEW: Apocalipstick

The COVID-19 vaccine has arrived—and it is one or more coats of Apocalipstick.

It was such a privilege to be back in a theatre for the second-last showing of Polytoxic’s latest that I had to write at least a brief review.

Apocalipstick technically sold out twice: once with restricted audience numbers, and again once those restrictions lifted. The energy—the sheer relief—in the room is electric: it’s a long time since we’ve all hooted and hollered like this. No one hesitates when the cast opens the show by leading us in a middle-fingers-up cry of ‘Fuck you, 2020!’

Leah Shelton and Lisa Fa’alafi (by FenLan Photography)

Polytoxic’s Lisa Fa’alafi and Leah Shelton have handpicked the line-up and rotating special guests. On our night it’s Abbey Church, Busty Busty Beatz, Hope One, Mayu Muto, Lana Tukaroa, Nerida Matthaei, Neridah Waters, An(drea) Lam, Chinta Woo-Allcock, and the Brides of Frank. It’s a silver lining of lockdowns that we have all this talent here in Brisbane at one time.

Apocalipstick proves that feminist theatre is in no danger of being diluted by so-called political correctness. Shelton’s drag-burlesque strip from full PVC-and-furs to nothing at all sets the tone for the evening: no holds are barred. This is a knockout night of cabaret that always punches up.

Polytoxic blend in the greatest hits with the brand new: it’s as much a joy to revisit Fa’alafi’s killer ‘Weave’ routine as it is to be introduced to Andrea Lam’s Bollywood-meets-Youtube-comments ‘Item Number’.

But the real stars of the show are the Hot Brown Homies, the lesser-known brothers of the Hot Brown Honeys—i.e. Busty Beatz and Hope One as our salivating emcees, Big M.I.C. and Young Harrison, promoting their new hit single ‘Ballistic Misogynistic’. The Hot Brown Homies’ reunion tour with 90s boy band Wrong Direction may just have garnered the best laughs of 2020 (shy of the Four Seasons debacle).

The big magic of Apocalipstick is in its queer joy, its (literally) balls-out feminist comedy that speaks directly to its audience. There is no male gaze here, my friends: in fact, toxic masculinity is cleaned up with a spray of ‘Antibac Off’. And, with a well-deployed leaf blower, Young Harrison will have you adding the phrase ‘stroking the Ryobi’ to your lexicon.

Hope One and Busty Beatz (photographed by FenLan)

Apocalipstick is also the first show I’ve seen in the New Benner Theatre at Metro’s new West Willage digs*. The last theatre I saw was at Metro Arts, with Love farewell-to-the-Old-Broad festival in February. I spent the months in between living and breathing the Metro archives—photos, faxes, letters, blueprints, playbills—and interviewing dozens of artists and arts workers (including Fa’alafi and Shelton). (The result—Art Starts Here: 40 Years of Metro Arts—is a pretty neat snapshot of Brisbane arts.)

With its risk-taking, glitter, contained chaos, nudity and BDE, Apocalipstick also proves that the bold energy of Metro Arts wasn’t constrained to the Old Broad. It’s alive and well over the river (with a working lift!!).

Apocalipstick ran from 6 to 28 November 2020 in the New Benner Theatre at Metro Arts.


*Also accessible on the night were Rebecca Ross’s uncanny-domestic Dark Entries video installation and Joanne Choueiri’s Archive of Loss—an installation of obituaries to Brisbane buildings demolished under Premier Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen. I recently had the pleasure of interacting with (and exploring inside) a large-scale installation of Ross’s on Chevron Island, Light House, which projected video out through the windows of an abandoned house; I love the way Ross uses spaces like these to make a kaleidoscope of our sense of time. And Archive of Loss is a pretty perfect installation for me: it blends architecture, archive and cemetery to make us reflect on the character of our city (and loss thereof). The work shows how much bureaucratic ‘progress’ often amounts to: many of Choueiri’s obituaries read, ‘[The building] was survived for 12 years by a hole.’

Dark Entries shows in Gallery One and Archive of Loss in Gallery Two until 5 December.

3…2…1—Lift-off (of WTF11)

Brisbane Powerhouse put on a very fine evening of drinks and nibblies at the launch of World Theatre Festival this week. I liked the idea of WTF from the beginning because it meant Ben Law’s face was on posters all over Brisbane and every time I saw one, I remembered The Family Law and giggled. (Ben, are you even part of WTF, poster aside?) The festival itself has a great line-up from Europe, the USA, Chile and NZ, as well as home-grown talent.

While we clutched our free wine and cider (the twittersphere keeps mentioning the WTF cider!), The Rat Trap, part of the festival’s Scratch Series of works-in-progress played out on the Turbine Platform. Sure, Polytoxic’s latest work is a little rough around the edges, but the audience was enraptured. With great costumes and a fantastic soundtrack (CW Stoneking and Amanda Palmer, together at last), the Polytoxic crew showed off some very promising choreography. I particularly loved the remote-control ratties and the swinging-from-the-lampshades dance routine. I wanted more from a one-trick strip to Palmer’s Missed Me, and couldn’t help but feel that the Siamese twins with the ping-pong balls were getting a bit too close to being offensive. But that’s what the Scratch Series is about—trying things out and trying things on, and The Rat Trap hit the mark far more often than it missed. With a bit of polish and tightening up, this will probably have the same obsession-creating effect on me that Cantina had at last year’s Brisbane Festival.

Apollo 13: Mission Control is an “interactive, intergalactic theatre piece” from the Land of the Long White Cloud. I was really excited to be one of the 100 “staff” working at Mission Control to help safely launch and land the Apollo 13, so I was a little disappointed when I ended up in the Press Gallery, looking on. Luckily, the friend I brought along managed to get in right up the very front, in the middle of all the action. The set is fantastic; audience members sit at 1970s-style computer consoles with functioning phones and video and shiny buttons. The cast went around sprucing up the new staff by handing out ties and tubs of Brylcreem. We (the pretend press) were handed a clipboard to jot down questions for the astronauts. We were all ready to be lifted off into funland.

The difficulty with a show like this—a recreation of a shuttle launch—is how to turn it from a historical event into theatre. Punters at consoles were given (rather involved) manuals to read, equations to solve, numbers to ring, and questions to answer, but ultimately nothing the audience did had any effect on the plot or characters. From the press gallery, there were lots of flashing lights and goings on—and lots of shouting—but I couldn’t see much meaningful interaction. I enjoyed the chats with the newsreader (great moustache!) and the astronauts, but my favourite scenes in the control room involved my buddy up the front hijacking the set, taking hold of a microphone, and making an air filter out of a tissue box, a vacuum tube, and sticky tape. His feedback was that the play felt like it couldn’t choose between serious re-enactment and freeform play. When he steered Apollo 13 in the latter direction, faces in the audience lit up.

At its worst, it felt a bit like a dud Thank God You’re Here segment; at its best, it was a joyous and chaotic rush of actors and punters playing together whilst machines made exciting pinging noises. I saw a lot of genuinely bored and anxious faces sitting at consoles, which is certainly a pity—but I think the cheers, when our astronauts came safely back to earth, were genuine too. There were moments when we felt like we were part of something momentous. I just wish there’d been more of those.

Find out more about WTF at: www.brisbanepowerhouse.org or you can check out my previews in Rave Magazine.