Dangerous Goods (Polytoxic) – theatre review

It’s a case of feathers meeting fluro when performers in Polytoxic’s new work, Dangerous Goods, initially ensemble in movement of feathered fans to ‘light our fire’. Continuing with theme of the collective’s 2021 Brisfest show, Demolition, the fluro comes from the hi-vis tradie uniform costumes… and also the more revealing hints from beneath them. It’s all part of the considered, detailed and multi-layered approach the characterises the company’s creative collaborations of social commentary comedy.

Photos: Jade Ellis

In examination of voices that have historically been considered dangerous, the feminist and first nations work curates together an eclectic and entertaining series of scenes, united thematically and in a sensibility of fierceness. This is cabaret of provocative performances, jaw-dropping physical feats and powerful acts, with circus, song and physical performances, made all the more dynamic through a powerful soundscape (sound design by co-directors, creators and conceivers Lisa Fa’alafi and Leah Shelton), including a catchy re-imagining of Brittney’s ‘Toxic’, not just in backing track but a key messenger. Pumping songs such as Die Antwood’s ‘Baby on Fire’ sit comfortably alongside even a Mary Poppins number, and other pop culture nods. The reveal of a special edition Poly Dolly Barbie, which allows for a 100% high-energy chicks with whips Wild West inspired yee-haw routine using traditional fala (woven mats) as cowgirl chaps, offers an early highlight and showcase of Fa’alafi and Shelton’s striking costume design. Indeed, costumes are consistently impressive in quality and thematic detail, often including naughty revelations.

It is a bit cheeky at times (#punintended), but also quite tongue-in-cheek too; especially in a later appearance of inflatable phalluses, a return from 2022’s hyper-visual In Your Dreams. Also making appearance is performance artist Shelton with a new twist to her doll act. For all its familiarity from some previous shows, however, there are a lot of new and memorable statements to be made from within its dance, drag, circus and strength numbers. Samoan Australian Fa’alafi, for example, provides a highlight in a powerful anti-colonisation slam-poetry-esque Pacific warrior dance (featuring another statement piece costume), offering resonance beyond just events of our region. And Kalala Sione gives a stirring cover of ‘Everyone Wants to Rule the World’ to provoke reconsideration of the song’s meaning.

As fun and sexy as it might be, a show of tradies, dolls and dicks is certainly not for everyone, but danger is not meant to be comfortable and while the mission statement is always about love as respect, Polytoxic shows are also about making noise and taking up space… unapologetically. The resulting unpacking of ideas serves to empower, reward and entertain audience members. Key also to the fabric of Polytoxic is not just its crew of diverse, multi-talented performers, but embrace of emerging artists. This is showcased throughout presentation of the debut work’s ‘rise up’ messaging with, for example, appearance of first nations singer songwriter RINA, as part of a rotating cast of special guests.

QPAC’s Cremorne Theatre space changes the dynamic from the company’s previous Brisbane Powerhouse shows, but also allows for an all-new level of intimacy as the cast (Fa’alafi, Shelton, Sione, Lilikoi Kaos, Mayu Muto and Bridie Hooper) aims to burn the place down with their provocations of the patriarchy, strutting out into the audience courtesy of a well-used thrust stage setup. And new audience revolution members are obviously engaged by the atmosphere and energy of pumping numbers such as premiere burlesque performer Jazida’s thrilling fire eating.

It’s quite the eclectic mix with numbers around consent siting easily in curation with circus-themed acts such as cheeky hula-hooping from Kaos, gravity-defying aerial rope work from Muto as a re-imagined Little Red Riding Hood and even a besser brick-focussed contortion act conceptualised by also aerial artist Bridie Hooper. What remains constant throughout though, and indeed across all of the company’s works, is the polish of its provocations and infectiousness of its high-octane entertainment, meaning that the show’s 90-minute duration seems to go by in the shortest of times.

Polytoxic’s production of Dangerous Goods is at the Cremorne Theatre, QPAC, Brisbane until 4 February 2024

Meredith Walker
For more of Meredith Walker’s writings on theatre, check out Blue Curtains Brisbane

Other reviews you might enjoy: