REVIEW: Rat King, Kryptonite Theatre Company (VAULT Festival)

Kryptonite Theatre Company aims to put untold stories on stage, challenging preconceptions in the process. Their latest production, Rat King, takes up residence in the Cage for week 6 of VAULT Festival. The premise of the play was intriguing, featuring a chance encounter between a teenage runaway and a homeless youth that will change both their lives forever. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite live up to its potential but it does offer a star turn from an exciting young performer.

Written by Bram Davidovich and directed by Mark Hilton, Rat King sees Kelly (Georgina Tack) and Jacko (Jacob Wayne-O’Neill) recount the events of the fateful few days during which they shared their lives. Initially separated on stage by a thick chalk line, they start to tell their stories individually. But as their worlds become one, we see the chalk lines blur and the narratives intertwine. It’s a promising start but doesn’t retain the initial intensity as the show goes on, suffering from pacing problems and a heavy dose of idealism in lieu of character development.

Having run away from home (for reasons that aren’t sufficiently well explored), Kelly finds herself in danger on an isolated tow path until Jacko comes to her rescue. Together they go back to Jacko’s squat where they immediately embark on an inexplicably intense relationship before breaking up even faster and returning to their former lives, seemingly touched forever by the experience.

It has the makings of a really powerful piece of theatre but it just doesn’t quite come off, instead giving the impression that homelessness can be solved by a positive mindset and an innate talent for painting. Tack has very little to work with in Kelly, whose backstory is paper thin and doesn’t properly offer the potential for exploring the very real parallels between her seemingly privileged life and Jacko’s world.

Instead, she comes off as a naive and egocentric posh girl who cannot comprehend the reality of life on the streets. While this might have been a perfectly reasonable angle to explore, it doesn’t really sit well with the somewhat soupy ending in which her brief influence seems to turn Jacko’s life around.

Jacko’s character is a little more developed, affording Wayne-O’Neill the opportunity to really showcase his talents as an actor. His incredible performance is the saving grace of an otherwise disappointing production, fully convincing us to feel both compassion for and fear of Jacko. His characterisation is so layered that it is a shame that the rest of the production does not live up to the performance.

It doesn’t feel consistently gritty enough, the conflict between the characters comes out of nowhere and the danger lurking just outside the door during a pivotal scene is seemingly averted without explanation. There is also a movement sequence which feels like it’s trying a little too hard to be artistic. This is a general problem with the production; it attempts to convey a message about the transformative power of art but to the detriment of an authentic narrative.

Overall Rat King is a promising piece of work with but, like the characters it features, needs to make major changes if it is to have a successful future.

Rat King plays at VAULT Festival from 28 February to 5 March 2023. We received a complimentary press ticket to the performance on 1 March.

Image credit: Kryptonite Theatre Company