BATS Theatre, The Dome, 1 Kent Tce, Wellington

01/03/2020 - 05/03/2020

NZ Fringe Festival 2020

Production Details

An amoral revenge tale for the #MeToo generation.  

“Five stars. Hands-down the best show this fringe. Hilarious. Whip-smart. Bloody important.” Great Scott Media, Adelaide Fringe.

Cockroach is a hilarious prose poem/grunge cabaret about female anger. Disrupting Kafka’s and Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Cockroach addresses the issue of violence against women with more violence! There will be no apologies. We are done with smiling politely.

Fresh from Adelaide, Sydney and Melbourne Fringe, Cockroach is an anthem for our times: furious, funny and hopeful.

When C wakes from a nightmare, she finds herself transformed into a monstrous vermin. For too long, she’s been told there’s something wrong with her. For so long, she’s yearned to behave badly. Tonight’s her night of reckoning!

Join C on a bloodcurdling bar crawl as this avenging exoskeletal anti-heroine rises from the ashes of abuse to become the true definition of a pest.

Part free-verse poem, part dance theatre, part grunge cabaret, this riotous urban-noir adventure subverts the patterns of rape in Kafka’s and Ovid’s Metamorphoses to explore the silencing that follows abuse and the transformations that occur recovering from it.

Writer/Director Melita Rowston and performer Leah Donovan find a loophole of laughter in the tragedy of abuse so healing can take place.

Featuring a live score by Benito Di Fonzo smashed together with percussion and Fender Strat, Cockroach is also about peeling off our armour so we can be seen.

Nominated: Best Performance – Melbourne Fringe

Nominated: Best Sound Design, Best Director, Best Cabaret Performer and Best Cabaret Performance – Broadway World Awards, Sydney.

Bank SA Support Act – Adelaide Fringe

“Donovan’s performance is intoxicating. She puts her voice and body on the line for the sake of maximum impact – Rowston’s words are in perfect hands.” (Adelaide Theatre Guide, Adelaide Fringe).

“Cockroach offers an honest and brutal perspective on gendered violence that will stay with you for days. An important and vital show in the midst of the #MeToo movement.” (The Upside News, Adelaide Fringe).

“Disfigured, alien-like and contorted, Leah Donovan is thrilling as she retells tales of sexual assault with new happy endings for a post #MeToo age.” (Fest Mag, Adelaide Fringe).

“Furiously smart.” (Sometimes Melbourne, Melbourne Fringe).

“Cockroach is a show that many have been crying out for… Leah Donovan is thrilling… Melita Rowston’s writing is spine-tinglingly brilliant.” (Arts Review, Melbourne Fringe).

“Athletic, balletic, ballistic, funny, crude, layered and human, it’s a work of strength and vital energy.” (Steve Smart, Melbourne Fringe).

“Powerful, creative and unapologetic.” (Broadway World, Sydney Fringe).

“A writhing, free-versatile, deep theatre, punk immersion… The very organs of history, myth and literature are brought into question.” (Syke on Stage, Sydney Fringe).

BATS Theatre, The Dome
1 – 5 March 2020
7pm, Sunday 6pm
Full Price $22
Group 6+ $20
Concession Price $17
Addict Cardholder $15

*Access to The Heyday Dome is via stairs, so please contact the BATS Box Office at least 24 hours in advance if you have accessibility requirements so that appropriate arrangements can be made. Read more about accessibility at BATS.

Writer/Director: Melita Rowston
Melita Rowston is a writer, director and performer. She’s a graduate of NIDA (Directing) and UTS (MA – Creative Writing). Recent credits: Cockroach (Writer/Director, Adelaide Fringe ’19, Melbourne Fringe ’18, Sydney Fringe ’18), Between the Streetlight and The Moon, (Writer, Kings Cross Theatre) ’17, Ljubicica: Wild Violet (Writer/Director, Casula Powerhouse, ’17, Melbourne Cabaret Festival, ’16, Winner BEST MUSIC Sydney Fringe, ‘15) THE GIANT WORM SHOW! Winner Adelaide Fringe Artist Fund Award, ’17 (Writer/performer, Adelaide Fringe ‘17, Sydney Fringe ‘16), 6 Degrees of Ned Kelly, (Writer/ performer, Adelaide Fringe ‘16, Sydney Fringe ‘15, Melbourne Fringe ‘15) Hey! Yeah! It’s Molly’s Travelling Worm Show! (Writer/ performer, Malthouse Theatre) ’13, MilkMilkLemonade (Director, New Theatre) ’13.

Performer: Leah Donovan
Leah Donovan is an actor and theatre-maker, she has trained and performed internationally, gaining her BA Hons in Acting from LASALLE College of the Arts, Singapore and later attending SITI Conservatory, training in Suzuki and Viewpoints in NYC. In NYC, she created a theatre collective – Future Husband – performing devised works. Credits: Cockroach (Adelaide Fringe ’19, Melbourne Fringe ’18, Sydney Fringe ’18), Ringside (National Museum Singapore) MilkMilkLemonade (New Theatre), Modern Jesus (Fledgling Theatre Company) NYC: Wake (Future Husband, HOT Festival) Happy Days (SITI Lab) Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally (One Year Lease Theatre Company, Edinburgh Fringe Festival) 2016, Winner The Stage Award for Acting Excellent, Edinburgh Fringe.

Composer/live music: Benito Di Fonzo Jr.
Benito Di Fonzo Jr. is a Sydney based singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, poet and playwright. He performs in several bands including Huknee Puknee, The Suburban Bukowskis, and Polski Ogorki Portable Orkestra. As a playwright, he wrote The Chronic Ills of Robert Zimmerman AKA Bob Dylan which won Best of Independent Theatre 2010 and toured nationally, A Riff on Keef: The Human Myth, Griffin Theatre Company and Lenny Bruce: 13 Daze Un-Dug in Sydney, TRS. He has performed at festivals and venues around Australia as well as in London, Edinburgh, Bali, Paris, Berlin, New York and New Orleans.

Theatre , Performance Poetry , Cabaret ,

1 hr

Brilliantly conceived and delivered

Review by John Smythe 02nd Mar 2020

BATS’ Dome space is strewn with multi-coloured rubbish bags and upstage left a musician is using loop pedals to accompany himself of electric guitar. Benito Di Fonzo Jr also has a drum kit, a cabasa, a rain stick and a tablet loaded with more to contribute to the performance we’re about to witness.  

The eponymous Cockroach – dynamically realised by Leah Donovan – emerges from a blackout. All angular twitches, creaks and cracks, she narrates the story of how she has come to be this way, precipitated by the abuse and departure of her ‘lover’. And in this guise she will go on to recreate how she deals with it.

The initial text has mutated from Bohemian writer Franz Kafka’s 1916 novella The Metamorphosis (dramatised as Metamorphosis by Steven Berkoff in 1969 and performed at BATS in 2008). Whereas Kafka and Berkoff were castigating the conventional bourgeois middleclass family unit, society and value system as stultifying (well before woke culture reclassified it as ‘privileged’), the Writer and Director of Cockroach, Melita Rowston, has toxic masculinity in the cross-hairs of the theatrical weapon she reassures us “is just a cautionary tale”. And the more Donovan, as the performer, reiterates this, after playing out another amoral revenge sequence, the more we sense an unspoken “yeah right”.  

A triple-threat – actor, singer, dancer – Donovan sets the tone with a hard-rock version of Rachel Platten’s ‘Fight Song’ and declares she will “solve the problem of violence with more violence” – thus alerting us not to feel complacent; our own value systems will be up for interrogation. Although hey, it’s just a cautionary tale …

Crucially we are given a quick refresher on where ‘rape literature’ began: in 43BC with Ovid’s Metamorphoses, wherein the passion-filled Gods’ fanciful ‘love-making’ is named for what it was: rape. And inevitably women violated in these stories lose their power of speech – e.g. by having their tongues cut out.* While Ovid is much more to the point than Kafka, the Cockroach metaphor speaks ingeniously to the duality of abuse victims’ low self-esteem and their resilient capacity for survival.

As the Cockroach sets out on her quest to wreak vengeance on a multitude of more recent perpetrators, the women are endowed with the classical names of their forebears: Calisto, Daphne, Philomena et al. The men are tagged according to what has given them their sense of entitlement: The Nightclub Owner’s Son; The Champion Swimmer; The Movie Producer; The Actor; The Bikram Yoga Instructor; The Professor; The Priest; The President …

The shock of knowing how real and recent all these examples are makes us realise they inhabit the tip of a very large ‘iceberg’ that reaches down to the depths of antiquity. No wonder the Cockroach keeps asking questions and making statements then pointing her mic at the man on stage with her (the musician) only to whip it away before he can say anything. The pendulum must always swing in the opposite direction before it can find equilibrium.

Those taking the action literally may be troubled that the Cockroach waits for the atrocities to be enacted before she takes revenge. But she is revisiting events that have already happened. And hey, it’s just a cautionary tale.  

Also mind-boggling is the endless list of judgements and demands imposed on women, and the painfully real justifications and rationalisations victims of abuse so often use to maintain their abject status quo. Stark reality keeps counterpointing the truth embedded in the dramatic allegories.

Having drawn us into the cesspit of vile abuse and revenge, with riveting skills and well-wrought humour, and aligned us to the thoroughly deserved acts of vengeance, Cockroach the cautionary tale brings us back to light, enlightenment and lightness with empowering recovery and resolution that reclaims her right – the right of all survivors of rape – to a rich and fulfilling life without fear. Equilibium is achieved.

Cockroach is brilliantly conceived and delivered to touch every nerve-end, provoke every emotion and prod every brain cell in its crucial quest for justice.
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*(In Act IV sc 1 of Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus Lavinia, having had her hands cut off and tongue cut out so she cannot name her rapists, enlightens her father by using her stumps to find the passage in Ovid’s epic where Philomena suffered the fate that has now befallen her.) 


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