Rats!

Airbourne Theatre Leeds’ original piece is a live-action cartoon, bursting with energy, colour, and child-like enthusiasm. It follows the plight of Dan Onaschük, an aimless twentysomething, who in quick succession loses his job, girlfriend, and confidence. Luckily for Dan, he has the ability speak to animals. Enter Rat: resident life coach. With the help of his basement rat and (bafflingly) mountains of sugar cubes, Dan begins to reclaim his life piece by piece. There’s not a lot of depth or pathos in Ben Meagher and Stuart Cook’s story, but there is definitely much pleasure to be found in this slight and silly beast.

Rats! isn’t going to change the world of theatre, but it sure is fun.

Rats! is a very broad piece of theatre. This means big characters, big action, and even bigger performances. Connor Gamble never lets the energy falter as Dan, using his expressive face to sell the wackiest material. The character’s default state is one of exasperation, and since the script keeps throwing absurd obstacles at him, Gamble never really has an opportunity to try different levels emotion in his performance. This means he can occasionally be a grating protagonist for the audience to follow, but luckily he is supported by a talented comedic ensemble. Jack Baxter’s performance as Charles the cat is perfectly smarmy, allowing us to give our total sympathies to Dan after he has enough of the obnoxious feline and belts him out of the window. Dan’s upper class girlfriend Cecelia is probably the one character that falls over the edge of broad comedy and into stereotype territory, but Leanne Stenson gives it her all. The quiet gem of the ensemble is undoubtedly Madeleine Gray as Zoe, Dan’s mousy assistant who is housing the world’s least subtle crush. Her understated reactions to Dan’s obliviousness and her off-kilter line deliveries stole the show’s biggest laughs.

The wackiness was also very much reflected in the jokes. The style lent itself well to the physicality of the piece and the abundance of farcical scenes, however there was a tendency to go for easy lines (I am programmed to roll my eyes at any Jeremy Kyle reference) and I think it weakened the satirical elements of the script in terms of Dan’s adventures in corporate management.

If the show is a cartoon, the theatrical form should be elastic. The piece is at its strongest when it plays with conventions - there is a slow motion sequence which powerfully conveys the chaos that is unfolding around the characters, as well as clever use of both off-stage dialogue and coloured cloth. If the show dived further down this particular rabbit hole, maybe utilising Becky Downing’s narrator more, it would improve a comedy brimming with potential.

Rats! isn’t going to change the world of theatre, but it sure is fun.

Reviews by Joe Christie

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The Blurb

Dan Onaschük is down on his luck. After kicking his now ex-girlfriend’s cat out of the window, he thinks he’s finally hit rock bottom, until Rat steps in. Teaching Dan all the tricks the careers centre won't, Rat sends Dan skywards on the social ladder, but can’t quite make up for the lost love of his ex-girlfriend. Brimming with colorful flair and wit with a wickedly bombastic array of furry characters, Rats! examines the consequences of living the life of someone you’re not. An Aesop’s Fable for the corporate world, Rats! is the perfect Edinburgh Festival Fringe comedy.

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