On November 30th, the month-long Precarious Arts Festival concludes with The Nervous System’s presentation of Kate Story’s new play Festivus Rattus Rattus 2035!.
A post-apocalyptic retelling of the legend of The Pied Piper of Hamelin, Festivus Rattus Rattus 2035! is one of the most compelling and original productions ever staged at The Theatre on King, combining storytelling, drama, dance, puppetry, and movement in a story that is both beautiful and bleak.
Kate Story weaves together both international and local politics to create a frightening view of Peterborough without technology, without children, and without hope. Taking place in the year 2035 with flashbacks to 2020, each year the elders of Peterborough (Brad Brackenridge, Rob Fortin, Susan Newman, Kate Story, and Ryan Kerr) gather the people together to tell the story of when the Piper came to town in 2020.
The story goes that, after a world-decimating nuclear fallout, Peterborough is infected with a rat infestation.
As the population is ravaged by the effects, a mysterious entity (Naomi DuVall) comes to town to meet with Peterborough’s crooked mayor (Brad Brackenridge) and his puppet council, and strikes a bargain to rid the city of the uncontrollable vermin.
But when city council goes back on their promise of payment, the Piper has his own revenge in mind.
Festivus Rattus Rattus 2035! also introduces the audience to “The Four” — the final four young people in Peterborough.
Fifteen years old when the Piper appeared and now 30, Peter (Mike Moring), Pretty (Robyn Smith), Maxine (Sylvie Dasne) and Burke (Derek Bell) escaped the events of 2020 and, through their stories, the audience gets a glimpse of what life was like during the plague and the terrifying events that changed Peterborough forever.
Engaging and original, Festivus Rattus Rattus 2035! has a split personality. Although it’s a bleak drama filled with gruesome imagery and disturbing content, the show also has humour and, at times, an over-the-top quality bordering on pantomime. There are also moments of tranquility and beauty; a stark juxtaposition to the world Kate creates.
But the most terrifying element is that Kate presents a world we can recognize because it is already our own. Using Peterborough as the backdrop and featuring local landmarks, political issues, and struggles Peterborough already faces — including the loss of industry and jobs and the gentrification of the downtown — the Peterborough of 2020 isn’t really science fiction at all. It’s the place that we live now. All it takes is a nuclear holocaust and a rat infestation to make real-life Peterborough the world of Festivus Rattus 2035.
What gives the show the human element, drawing the audience into the story, are the stories told by The Four. Although 30 years old, the four characters maintain an innocent child-like quality filled with a wide-eyed playfulness, which in truth is somewhat disturbing at times. Throughout the show, Mike, Robyn, Sylvie and Derek take turns on the stage telling the stories of their lives, and where they were on the tragic morning when the snow fell on Peterborough and the Piper came for payment.
I don’t want to ruin the audience experience by revealing the content of their stories, but The Four not only become the heart of Festivus Rattus Rattus 2035, but also the heart of post-apocalyptic Peterborough.
In a bold and larger-than-life performance, Brad Breckinridge plays both the leader of the post-apocalyptic colony as well as the mayor of Peterborough. As the mayor, Brad is a greedy and arrogant shyster with little respect for the community he represents who worries more about his own self-preservation.
With the contraption featuring multiple puppet heads to represent city council, there are no shades of gray between the show’s portrayal of future politicians and the opinions that some people have about Peterborough’s current mayor and council. With little to lose, this performance has a lot of cutting commentary on the state of local politics.
One of the surprising elements of Festivus Rattus Rattus 2035! is that the show is also a musical, with original compositions by Rob Fortin and Susan Newman. With Rob on guitar and Susan on accordion, the pair have written a number of original compositions that are primarily melodic, lending an often misleading beauty to the show.
Once again, the songs are often political in nature, especially “Greed” that takes on international and local politics, and the current air of corruption and dread gripping the world we live in. Rob and Sue’s music is fantastic, and really sets the mood for this show.
The musical highlight of the show is a song and dance number by Kate and Ryan called “Fakes, Liars and Thieves”, which is about the lack of support of the arts by both municipal and federal governments. Ryan and Kate dance beautifully together, and their choreography is very clever (in one dance move, they come together to create a chomping piranha — it could be one of the most inspired moments of movement I’ve seen in any show this year).
But Festivus Rattus Rattus 2035! goes beyond just being a stage show: it really is a full theatrical experience. Using a number of different performance disciplines on stage throughout the show, The Theatre On King crew really up their creativity with the way they engulf the entire space into the show through the set, props, and lighting.
The actors are clothed eloquently in old but futuristic costumes designed by Kate Story, and the cast dons rat masks created by Brad and Naomi — most prominently worn by Shannon McKenzie who lurks in the wings as a strange mysterious presence garbed in a gown and a giant rat head.
Meanwhile, Brad creates some hauntingly effective handmade special effects in the show’s devastating climax; it’s one of the cleverest things I’ve ever seen.
As Kate has expressed beautifully, the show is an example of the “poverty of theatre”. Everything was produced on a low budget but, through sheer imagination and ingenuity, it still creates a huge impact. Combined together, all of these elements help create what is possibly the greatest epic ever produced at The Theatre On King.
Festivus Rattus Rattus 2035! is designed to provoke a response from the audience, whether it be horror, laughter, or political outrage. What I found interesting was how it challenged me both as a writer and an observer of art. This is political theatre that packs a powerful punch, while maintaining its message through compelling storytelling and artistic integrity. But its social commentary never hinders the audience’s enjoyment of the production.
This is not a show seeking public approval or trying to please everyone — it may not even fill all the seats, although it should. Potent, daring, and innovative, Festivus Rattus Rattus 2035! raises the bar for original local theatre.
While it may not suit all audiences (and it’s not recommended for children), I consider Festivus Rattus Rattus 2035! one of the best shows ever staged at The Theatre On King. If you have are concerned about local politics or consider yourself an engaged member of the Peterborough community, this is a show you should be seeing. If you just like original theatre and to be challenged artistically as well as mentally and emotionally, this is a show you should be seeing. If you are just looking for somewhere to be this weekend, this is a show you should be seeing.
Festivus Rattus Rattus 2035! runs from Wednesday, November 30th to Saturday, December 2nd. Performances begin at 8 p.m., with an additional matinee performance on Saturday at 2 p.m.. Tickets are $15 at the door or pay what you can.