The one-woman play, ‘Cockroach’, presented by Leah Donovan and written by Melita Rowston, is intense, personal and cuts to the bone, discussing the impacts of abuse and sexual violence.
Many of its ideas are also expressed through song, to emotive effect. It is poetic, dramatic, and sarcastic, and strikes right for the heart of the issues and perpetrators with a vengeful purpose.
The play takes gendered violence as seen in the public sphere and puts a new spin on it, creating an anti-heroine who wreaks revenge against perpetrators of sexual assault. It describes in pretty graphic detail, attacks against women (be warned), that are taken in part from well-publicised news stories, and then describes an unconventional and fantastical revenge against these figures, influenced by historical and mythical tales, in equally graphic detail. The performance is framed by a story that is more ubiquitous, of violence in a relationship, which contrasts with the revenge tales of the more well-known incidents we hear about in the news.
The play depicts the ‘metamorphosis’ that can occur from abuse, through the metaphor of a cockroach – freakish and savage, injured but indestructible. The cockroach captures the changes that abuse can force upon women, and the feelings that arise, such as the shame and anger that are a universal experience in abuse, but also the strength gained through survival. It shows how these ‘ugly’ feelings are something society wants us to hide, not feel or express, but it is in these feelings, where there is healing and overcoming of silence and oppression. The writers have commented, “when women feel anger, they feel guilty, so they turn it on themselves” – this social conditioning is what ‘Cockroach’ battles against.
The play is raw and up-front about the affects of violence, and realistically portrays the impacts and essence of trauma, and the silencing or corrupting of the voice. Through narrative and humour, it helps to make okay some of the difficult feelings and desire for revenge that accompany trauma and violence. It starts important conversations, and is blunt and honest in its intentions.
The revenge tales are told with a violent fury, imagination and graphic description that is a kind of catharsis and turns the historical tales that victim blame women on their heads. She captures many of the messages from society to women with an unabashed and brutal incisiveness. 'Cockroach' is a peculiar show that may not be relatable to many who have not experienced abuse or trauma, but to those who have, it is significant and surprisingly on point.
Content warning: Features domestic/gendered violence, rape, sexual assault.