Presented by Variegated Productions
Reviewed 26 February 2020
The title of this production is suiting yet misleading and befitting yet imperfect – most importantly though, it is memorable. The “how and why” to this summation however, is as hazy as the northern lights or aurora borealis; but the fascinating aspect about the “unusual” is that it is different in an interesting, attractive and impressive way. With this mindset, one might be prepared to undergo the journey that is Ragnarøkkr; but truth-be-told, a theatre enthusiast will most likely still be surprised no matter what their groundwork is before becoming witness to this musical theatre piece and that is the most awe-inspiring feature of all.
First and foremost, this is as much a rock concert as it is a tale; Joe Paradise Lui(guitarist, back vocalist and the “Snake” character) was imposing in his musicianship, fluctuating between tender alt-rock moments similar to Radiohead, neck-dislocating hard-rock to near thrash metal of the likes of Monster Truck and even Metallica, then darker and sombre tones inspired by Swans. These genre changes navigated the story remarkably but were not the sole force of the musical. Gracie Mae Smith (drummer and the “Wolf” character) was thunderous, delicate and more machine than human with her percussive talents; in a sense the show was minimalistic, however the combination was immeasurable in power.
Vocalist, lead actor and narrator St John Cowcher(character “Loki”) is in essence why Ragnarøkkr is more than a musical composition; he doesn’t just take part in the performance, he manifests and executes it, mostly through song. At times, the songs are familiar to Nordic Folk group Wardruna, then in other instances Nick Cave, when the music calls for it David Bowie is an unavoidable inspiration and superbly even King Diamondseems to get a nod of respect in the portrayal of the character. It is far from conventional, but it ebbs and flows with the story remarkably and captivates the audience. The most magnetic moment would have to have been a monologue influenced by Charlie Chaplin’s final speech in The Great Dictator which was alarmingly and masterly genuine in delivery.
The story itself is motivated on the Norse narrative of Ragnarök and the death of historic figures and Gods – the brilliance is how these three performers bring a modern feel to the chronicle and a relevance to today’s world. Politics, indigenous traditions and pride and appreciation for the land are all negotiated throughout the chapters of the production creating an authentic heartfelt appreciation for the history of Australia. This is the most astonishing attribute to Ragnarøkkr – that it is an Australian performance even though it has a Scandinavian title and thankfully the West Australian trio embrace this in an ingenious manner; it even includes some extraordinary Aussie slang and humour.
The closing chapter “Rebirth” is the shining moment where a discreet nature-driven ballad is performed by just the Snake and the Wolf acknowledging the importance of our land, its history and the environment which the entire ensemble then reinforced with their speech of thanks after the showcase. This conclusion was the inspirational moment that clarified the distinction of this musical theatre piece – it really is flawlessly captured by the idiom: “Good things come in small packages”. Explore the Fringe festival like the Vikings explored the world, there is always more to discover.
Reviewed by Will Oakeshott
Rating out of 5: 4
Venue: Holden Street Theatres
Season: February 18th to March 1st 2020
Duration: 60+ minutes
Tickets: $22 – $28