Fierce femme manifest

Demolition (Polytoxic)

Brisbane Powerhouse, Powerhouse Theatre

September 4 – 11

Polytoxic has taken over the Brisbane Powerhouse with their world premiere Brisbane Festival show “Demolition”… literally, with the Powerhouse Theatre transformed into a worksite of three story scaffolding, safety tape streamer of the stalls and even ushers dressed in high vis. There’s an energy of excitement to the anticipation enhanced by the spectacle, but also a clear signal as to its metaphoric messaging with site safety warnings about the patriarchy and a pre-show playlist of problematic ‘Blurred Lines’ type tunes, meaning that before its eight diverse, fierce femme tradies starting taking a sledgehammer to the system, we know that this explosion of cabaret, theatre and social activism is clearly not going be a show of subtleties.

After we are Welcomed to Team Demo in call and response from a megaphoned site manager Boss Bitch (Lisa Fa’alafi), it’s all hands on deck to deal with the system that a site survey has revealed is failing from its foundations. This occurs through a variety of musical numbers, poetry, dance and artistic circus type performances of daring aerials, rope acrobatics and alike. The shows of strength and skill include some impressive pole tricks from Leah Shelton, animated by her exaggerated expressions and numbers that take full advantage of the expansive Powerhouse Theatre heights. Danger Zone Mayu Muto impresses with her high rope acrobatics, Fa’alafi flies out to the audience in an aerial hoop routine and Lilikoi Kaos rises into the air while working multiple hula hoops in an extrordinary early number. And they are all cleverly curated together to not only illustrate, but empower as part of the show’s messaging.

From the outset it is clear that “Demolition” is a layered work of much craftedness. There is an initial attention to detail (down to the level of even a typical tradie ice break beverage) to create a memorable experience…. even more so for the handful of audience members seated in the danger zone of the stage’s edge, all also adorned in high vis, who become part of the act in help-out and infectious celebration of being up for the challenge in one of the show’s many clap along moments.

Looking to create a level playing field, Safety Officers and also audience favourites, the forthright Jackhammer (Ghenoa Gela) and spirited High Voltage (Lilikoi Kaos) take us through some the rules for life about not walking alone at night etc al in signpost of the instinctively vigilant lens through which so many women, femmes, non-binary, trans and marginalised people operate day-to-day and night-to-night.

Slippery When Wet (Leah Shelton) gives us dark glimpse into the reality of rape culture with sinister suggestions being pushed in a ‘Get Outta My Dreams, Get Into My Car’ number, featuring an on-stage ute. It’s a moment that serves as a true testament to the company’s cleverness as Billie Ocean’s ‘80s pop number becomes bigger and badder than ever, and its performers all do an excellent job in capturing their male roles in the concerning scenario of attempted lyric enticement into its backseat.

While some inclusions seem a little unclear or are sometimes a little longer than they need to be, such as when we spend a big chunk of time watching Sledgehammer attempt to drag said car across the stage in mirror of the experience of systematic oppression to a tension-filled soundscape. Still, the soundtrack by Musical Director Kim ‘Busty Beatz’ Bowers is dynamic throughout with regard to its choices, often pumping us along for its high adrenaline explosiveness, but also allowing for quieter moments of respite during aerial circus numbers and an emotion-filled contemporary dance performance by Ceiling Smasher Zayah Bond.

For all of its cleverness and moments of vulnerability, there is no getting away from the grit at the core of the show’s critique of traditional Australian masculinity. The manner in which directors Fa’alafi and Shelton have crafted together this slick, multi-layered and complex work is to be commended and celebrated because “Demolition” both blows up the system and builds up the community in balance. All elements of its aesthetic are on-point. Costuming takes us from initial high vis jackets to black outfits of various design with cleverly placed touches of caution tape and then some striking leotard garments. And especially, in a late fluro number, lighting works in complement to these.

Polytoxic is in the business of shaking things up and getting shit done, so this is not a show of niceties. Its edgy parodies are over-exaggerated and its hyperreal aesthetic is purposeful. And as such, it serves an overt call to arms to everyone to do better around issues of female oppression… to step up, speak up and be accountable together to tear down the patriarchy.

While its arts-supportive audience buy-in means that we are on-board with its messaging, there are still moments of confrontation such as when a mashup of sound bite snippets already shocking into their sentiments becomes even more so with realisation that the misogynous comments are from within the mainstream media landscape. This makes a late-show slam poetry-esque manifest about the ‘isms’ serving as a barrier to a new reality, even more poignant in its plea for resilience and solidity.

Clearly, “Demolition” is at its core an expression of what we really need to get past the past, but its dynamic realisation equips it with an essential excitement and entertaining appeal way beyond that of traditional political theatre… providing you can handle its daring in-your-facedness.

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