RATS (Rose Against The System)
Kyle Legall Alonzo
Wales Millennium Centre
When I first arrived in Cardiff, many years ago, Tiger Bay, aka Butetown, aka “The Docks” was a by-word for all sorts of nefariousness, based largely on its status as one of Britain‘s oldest multicultural communities and a preponderance of nightspots where certain illegal activities were tolerated, if not positively encouraged.
Nowadays, the vastly redeveloped Cardiff Bay is a tourist destination of a more family-friendly variety, with its focus being the iconic (an overused word, but entirely appropriate in this instance) Wales Millennium Centre. There is much mythologisation of the Bay’s past, and some debate over the extent to which gentrification has marginalised the Bay’s original residents.
RATS (Rose Against The System) faces these issues head-on, albeit in a broadly satirical manner. It is the brainchild of local writer, artist and animator Kyle Legall and has been in development for a couple of years with the support of the Millennium Centre and National Theatre Wales.
The performance takes place in the excitingly no-unauthorised-civilians-allowed roof-space of the Centre (where I saw the excellent Omidaze production of Henry VI last year); a suitably bleak setting. This is a subterranean world, where rats are dominant.
We are confronted with the video projection of a foul-mouthed mother rat, bemoaning the fact that her daughter has yet to go out into the world. We see this rebellious but sensitive offspring, played by Danielle Fahiya, educating herself by reading discarded literature.
It becomes clear that this young rat will only become a meaningful member of the Butetown Rat society if she undertakes the ritual of going into the human world of Cardiff Bay and claiming a name by finding an object to steal, like her worldly-wise older brother and guide, Compass (Anthony “Wella” Corria).
Along the way, she encounters a pink-eyed white lab-rat (with an ear growing out of his back) played with lascivious wide-boy relish by Imran Khan and frees him from his cage. Following a traumatic encounter with a dying rat, they make the acquaintance of the fiendish pirate rat—John Norton—and his crew (Corria, again). It transpires that the Bosun has a plan, which involves an unexploded World War II bomb.
The aesthetics are impressive—the rat masks (all made from old training shoes) are clever, as are the costumes (Fahiya’s is slinky, while those worn by Compass and Rat X don’t stray far from their tracksuit roots). The dance music soundtrack is also impressive, as are the singing voices of Corria and especially Fahiya.
The script is witty, full of intentionally painful rat puns (“apparattus”, “elaborat” etc) and references which were appreciated by those of my fellow audience-members who were steeped in Bay history. There is perhaps too much time spent on exposition though, especially at the beginning; and, unless I missed something vital (which is entirely possible), the fate of the bomb remains unclear.
Conceptually, RATS is both clever and accessible, with a playfully metaphorical narrative and likeable performances. One hopes the rodents will rise again.
Reviewer: Othniel Smith