Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Review Rabbits

by Joe Hampson

Strange Stew

Rabbits puts itself out as a play about what middle-aged people do behind closed doors. Hmm, well, it's  very much a series of sketches with common characters and - eventually - a theme.

However, while an excellent three-strong cast try their best, it's a crab-like would-be comedy of the absurd which doesn't so much develop as try to manoeuvre clumsily sideways.

And there were times when we thought perhaps we were being inducted into the stage equivalent of the cult of mini movies remade with bunnies.

Working in reverse, we learn the rather anticlimactic and curiously old-fashioned whys and wherefores of what turns out to be a sex comedy near the end when it finally pulls the proverbial long-eared mammal out of the hat.

The play revolves around three characters, one apparently a husband and wife, the other a chameleon man who metamorphosizes into three different characters.

When we say metamorphosize, that's a little misleading as it implies fluidity between the three sections of the play.

The dialogue and jerky twists and turns seems to breed more possible plots than a fluffy bunny breeds offspring, going through approximations of numerous TV and movie premises,

So it starts off with a hitman plot where a sitcom-type husband, rather than wanting to get rid of his wife by violent means, is focussing on the disposal of an unwanted gift.

Maybe the baseball cap with a prominent "LA" on the head of the hapless male spouse is a clue. The actors make it characterful but we found the set up and gags distinctly weak and forced.

The experimentation with structure felt less a choice growing organically out of content, but a means of inserting gags and set ups the writer wanted to include. We did also wonder whether this piece may have started off as a radio play.

We noted the repetitions and differences between the first two parts. We can't say there was "Ahhh, brilliant, I never saw that coming" or "Wow, that was wonderfully trailed but it's still a surprise" before the downbeat third act revelation.

Alex Ferns takes on a trio of characters and the first scene is the strongest where visually he cuts a distinctive figure as the hitman in Alex Berry's bedsit set. David Schaal also brings energy to the perculiar ticks and helplessness of the husband.

Karen Ascoe as the spouse who wears the trousers in the household is the stand out in the cast, but this is probably because her transformations as a character are the most extreme.

As far as we could tell, there is also some attempt to make a difference in acting styles between heightened cartoon fantasy with some deliberately coarse acting and more naturalistic scenes.

Staging wise, a raised platform stage or at least more thought given to sightlines for all the rows may have proved beneficial. The space has raked seats on two sides and, about three rows back, we had our view severely impeded when the action descended onto the floor.

Director Sadie Spencer by necessity forces the pace on a script which feels very stitched together and artificial.

Of course at this point it would be easy for the creatives to argue it is meant to be an artificial environment created by the characters themselves and we could dispute about this ad infinitum ... It's that kind of irritating script and situation.

For us this felt like a play that isn't as insightful, experimental or funny as it thinks it is. Still, bunny casting must be hoping it's part of a trend with fluffy mammals appearing in both The Ferryman and now hopping over to the Park Theatre here. A red/amber light.

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