The Rat King Presents: The Rise and Fall and Rise of Rex O’Naugh chronicles the highs and lows of almost every washed up celebrity. Premiering at the Factory Theatre as part of the the Sydney Fringe Festival, it was at times funny, however often the jokes felt contrived and didn’t quite hit the mark.
The narrative itself is not exceptionally original, given that it follows the downward spiral many celebrities go through - substance abuse, public scandals and infidelity. It is a story that has been used and re-used since celebrities first walked the pages of gossip magazines.
What was enjoyable about The Rat King’s production is the way that the actors and the production team never took themselves too seriously. The cast’s (Damon Neame, Jacqui Duncan, Lizzy Hoo, Bec Melrose, David Allsopp, AJ Scarcella) portrayal of a variety of different characters felt effortless and benefited from being really stripped back. This was engaging to watch because it took away all the melodrama that often seeps into these comedic pieces when actors are trying to represent realism.
The weirdness of this production cannot be understated, it featured celebrity Rex O’Naugh having an affair his his co-actor who also happened to be a puppet. This was a hilarious part of the show to watch. There is something exceptionally enjoyable about productions that just throw caution to the wind and do whatever they want.
However, the lack of dramaturgical inhibition was also a major downfall for this production. Transitions were messy and the acting at times felt weak and failed to engage the audience. One got the impression, at times, that the actors didn’t really want to be there, which was disappointing to watch.
The voice overs were another hit and miss moment of the piece. Occasionally they were very enjoyable and funny but for the most part they were drawn out and very contrived. There was a sense that there was something funny out there, but the voice-overs were not able to enunciate it.
What was a real positive moment of the piece, however, was the videography. The use of clips from Rex O’Naugh’s films were some of the funniest and more engaging parts of the performance. It really grounded the piece in its satire and gave this semi-fictional tale some realistic elements. Rex O’Naugh’s facial expressions during the filming were very subtle yet also clearly highlighted the absurdity of the piece.
It was clear that the team of The Rise and Fall and Rise of Rex O’Naugh wanted to stay true to themselves and put on what they thought was funny and at times that’s what they did, but often their humour just didn’t translate to the audience. A cautionary tale in throwing it all to the wind, their carelessness and effortlessness at times really added to the performance, but did not always find its note.