2019 Fringe Festival Review: Cockroach

Who: Melita Rowston and Leah Donovan

Where: The Studio – Bakehouse Theatre

When: Until 9 March

How much: $29, tickets here

In the past few years, society has begun a sexual metamorphosis of sorts. Female anger at male oppression has reached a boiling point and begun to spill outward, triggering a long-awaited reckoning with sexual violence. Cockroach is billed as an ‘amoral revenge tale for the #MeToo generation’, and it absolutely hits the mark. This play is a clever and prescient exploration of female anger, at turns darkly comedic and terrifyingly real.

At its core, Cockroach is a feminist reimaging of Kafka’s Metamorphosis and a subversion of its inspiration, Ovid’s Metamorphoses. It’s nowhere near as complicated as it sounds, however – Leah Donovan gives us a hilarious three-minute run through the ‘patterns of rape in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, so even those unfamiliar with the source text will understand the deconstruction and appropriation of the sexual-violence-ridden text.

Donovan plays a woman whose anger at male oppression turns her into the eponymous cockroach. She is furious, indestructible, and ready to exact revenge on all men who hurt and rape women. Invoking well-known cases such as Brock Turner and Harvey Weinstein, Donovan reimagines the victims as the women in Ovid’s tales, but wrathfully turns the tables on the aggressors. It’s a brilliant, clever concept executed with a wonderfully biting script.

Donovan is truly outstanding as ‘C’, the woman-turned-cockroach. She’s one of the most electric performers I’ve seen on stage. Her crawling physicality is mesmerizing as she portrays the monstrous roach, and she delivers her diatribes with visceral, raw ferocity. Her fury and bitterness are palpable as she revels in vengeful violence like a wretched Tarantino heroine.

The play’s energy only drops during the musical numbers. Donovan’s punk-feminist ballads unfortunately feel like an unwelcome interruption to the captivating narrative. Her voice is fine, but it’s nowhere near as brilliant as her acting. I felt the songs added very little to the narrative, almost as if they had been shoehorned in purely so the show could be billed as a cabaret. Fortunately, the strength of the rest of the show was enough to carry it past the musical numbers.

If it weren’t for the lackluster songs, this would easily be a five-star play for me. Regardless, Cockroach is a brilliantly conceived show truly worth seeing, and Donovan’s wrathful roach will stay in my mind for a long time.

4.5/5 stars

Tamika Glouftsis

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