Fem-led fierceness

In Your Dreams (Polytoxic)

Brisbane Powerhouse

November 23 – 25

Polytoxic is an Australian collective known for creating hyper-visual, pop-inspired performance work built upon the foundations of diversity, collaboration and intersectionality, and their new cabaret work, debuting at Brisbane Powerhouse’s Melt festival celebration of queer art, artists and ideas, is very much in keeping with this mantra. Though scaled down from 2021’s “Demolition”, “In Your Dreams” still explores some very big and important ideas. Forget Aria, Oscar and Matilda… this is an awards ceremony for the future, with all the glamour, drama and entertainment you could want. It’s a utopic vision where everyone is recognised, presented as a femme led future. We appreciate this from the moment its troop of performers takes to the stage’s red carpet to take out their anger upon the statutes that line its runway.

From there, we are welcomed to the FOMOEOS awards (you will have to go to find out what this acronym stands for) by Polytoxic leaders Lisa Fa’alafi and Leah Shelton. There is a bit of a film theme running through its early numbers, which include musical nods to “Rocky” and “Grease” (with an unusual in-time audience clap along) as bros BIG M.I.C (Busty Beatz) and Young Harrison (Hope Haami) attempt a misogynistic reclaim.  

The work features a line-up of glass-ceiling smashing, system dismantling, genderqueer, fiercely intersectional artists including Alinta Mcgrady, Kim ‘Busty Beatz’ Bowers, Lilikoi Kaos, Mayu Muto, Matehaere Hope Haami Aka Hope One, Gogo Bumhole, Richie Lestrange and Rhythmology. The ensuing range of acts includes the usual mix of disciplines, only perhaps with more provocation than the company’s previous works, meaning that this is not a show for the easily offended (who may have to check their privilege), in terms of both its language and conceivably confrontational subject matter to some.

Numbers include impressive aerials, big vocals, beatboxing, hoops, street dance, lip-sync, drag and performance art and there are many highlights from within them. Fearsome warier Mayu Muto takes advantage of the lofty Powerhouse Theatre space to impress with some gravity-defying aerial rope work, while ripping apart anyone who gets in her way. In another of its circus-themed acts  Fa’alafi twirls fire sticks sans fire in a frenzy that creates an amazing visual spectacle. And Shelton shows strength and skill in a memorable sex-doll pole routine.

Nothing is off limits in this loud and proud mother of all #hellyeah take downs, which has been created and written by Fa’alafi and Shelton in collaboration with the cast. Kayne BIG M.I.C returns to the Polytoxic stage, uninvited and unannounced to steal the limelight and take home all the awards, and the ensuing 90s r-and-b boy band ‘Hot Brown Homies’ parody is absolutely hilarious in its exaggerated r-rated reminders of the genre’s dance moves and archetypes.

One of the features of a Polytoxic show is a dynamic soundscape and, in this regard, “In Your Dreams” does not disappoint. With music direction by Fa’alafi and Shelton in collaboration with Kim ‘Busty Beatz’ Bowers, the soundscape is as big as it gets and adds much to the amplified aesthetic. And when Badass Mutha Alinta Mcgrady takes gold with a late-show ‘Winner Takes It All’, her passionate delivery not only emphasises her vocal talent, but focus us on the show’s articulated spotlights on notions of body sovereignty and similar.

Unforgiving and unapologetic activism is what this company is all about and “In Your Dreams” is a fierce, in-your-face reminder of this in its essential, explosive celebration of glass-ceiling smashing and colonial hetro-normative patriarchal system dismantling. This is a fantastical VIP-style party where the queers, outcasts and political activists are celebrated and win the awards they deserve. Indeed, “In Your Dreams” is a theatrical feminist feast of disruption that (literally) rips to shreds antiquated notions of girls on film and alike. Its inclusive celebration of resilience and freedom never wanes in energy, including in its sensational slip and slide curtain call.

Photos c/o – Jade Ellis Photography

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.