Te Auaha, Tapere Nui, 65 Dixon Street, Te Aro, Wellington

08/03/2022 - 12/03/2022

NZ Fringe Festival 2022

Production Details

Created and performed by Rachel Atlas
Produced by George Fowler/Hugo Grrrl
Sabrina Martin - Director
Sameena Zehra - Director Mentor
Petra Shotwell - Assistant Producer
Bekky Boyce - Lighting and Projection Designer
Maxwell Apse - Sound Designer
James Kiesel - Stage Manager
Erika Takahashi - Set Designer, Assistant Stage Manager
Aden Meser - Photography
Jared Pallesen - Graphic Design
Go Go Amy - Costume Design

She’s hard to swallow.

Rachel Atlas has a complicated relationship with danger. From teenage stripper to sword swallower, from accidental dominatrix to knife-thrower’s assistant, she’s never been able to resist living on the edge. In this riotous tell-all debut solo show, expect to be thrilled by world-class stunts, raw humour and the heart-warming journey of a dangerous woman finally finding safety.

Rachel Atlas is an internationally renowned circus performer and a veteran of the vaudeville and Fringe Festival circuits the world over. Gag Reflex will be her first autobiographical work: lifting the curtain on her fascinating life of salacious sexual exploits, bad trips, worse men, and, of course, death-defying misadventures.

A thrilling, titillating, tear-jerking theatre experience not to be missed.

Te Auaha – Tapere Nui, Level 1, 65 Dixon Street, Te Aro
Tuesday 8 – Saturday 12 March 2022

Theatre , Circus , Cabaret ,

1 hr

Leaves you gagging for more

Review by Wesley Hollis 12th Mar 2022

If you’re looking for the sharpest show at this year’s Fringe – which, at times, features actual knives – then Gag Reflex, hosted at Te Auaha, may well be the one.  

Written and performed by Rachel Atlas and directed by Sabrina Martin, it features superb storytelling along with daring, edge-of-your-seat acts such as knife throwing and sword swallowing. This, along with insights into the sex work industry and an incredible sense of humour, means that Gag Reflex is aptly named.

The show tells the story of Rachel’s life as a sex worker and circus performer, as well as delving into aspects of her relationships and her family. This is one of the most interesting life stories out there, and the way the show has been put together and performed certainly does this justice. The monologue is engaging and Rachel delivers it with the cadence and confidence of someone truly comfortable as a performer. 

Action is an important part of the storytelling, with comedic scenes that have the crowd in stitches and daredevil circus acts that are compelling – even if a few people (such as myself) are watching them through their fingers. Connor Johnson, Rachel’s trusty gimp, helps with the knife throwing, as well as making sure that Rachel has the right props at the right time without upstaging her as the undeniable superstar of the show.

The minimal yet functional set is designed by Erika Takahashi and built by Mattias Goed. Steps and a stage provide different levels, and there is a projector backdrop and a wooden board used for the knife throwing act. All of the stage space is well utilised throughout the show, and the use of a few simple props is helpful in telling the story and setting scenes.

Costume is one of the stars of the show, with design by Go Go Amy and assistance by Matt Adkins. Rachel starts the show in a blue, red and gold outfit reminiscent of Wonder Woman which introduces her as a powerful figure who commands attention. The costume evolves as the night goes on, at times being more stripped down or layered up depending on what the story calls for.

Lighting, music and sound effects have an important part to play regarding atmosphere and mood, thanks to lighting and projection design by Bekky Boyce, and sound design by Bekky Boyce and George Fowler. Flashing lights and colours are used to emphasise scenes of high energy, while softer lighting, darkness, and spotlights all convey lower energy scenes of mystery, transition or sadness. The sound effects are all well suited and perfectly timed, and the choice of songs are perfectly matched to the subject of any given scene.

Overall, this is a strong show. In the one or two moments where a line is improvised, or something doesn’t go according to plan, the energy of the show never falters due Rachel’s strength as a performer and the hard work put in by all who helped to bring the show to life. While much of the show is funny and high energy, there are tragic moments as well, and sensitive topics that may upset some people. The show has a lot of mature content, but this is presented in a way which is engaging and informative rather than crass.

Anybody watching Gag Reflex should come into it with an open mind and ready to have some of their beliefs challenged. In return, you’ll be richly rewarded with a show that has you engaged from the first second and leaves you gagging for more.


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