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Rabbit Hole

by on 22 September 2018

Grief and Lemon Squares

Rabbit Hole

by David Lindsay-Abaire

Questors Theatre Company at The Studio, Ealing until 29th September

Review by Andrew Lawston

The grieving process is a long, unpredictable, and tortuous path, along which everyone must travel at some stage in their lives. As such, it has long provided huge scope for dramatists, with David Lindsay-Abaire’s play Rabbit Hole a particularly powerful piece, in that it exposes the deafening silence of repressed pain when a middle-class family loses a young child in a tragic accident.

This new production in the Studio Theatre at Ealing’s Questors transforms the intimate space into an impressively comfortable family home, complete with kitchen, living room, and a child’s bedroom on the first floor. The illusion of comfort is quickly destroyed, however, as Becca listens with mounting exasperation to her sister Izzy’s account of a fight in a bar. This entertaining but clumsy tale is finally revealed to be Izzy laying the groundwork for her big revelation: she is pregnant, and has been talking to their mother, Nat, to work out the best way to break the news to Becca, who lost her son Danny just eight months previously.

Rabbit Promo

When Becca’s husband Howie appears, it quickly becomes clear that the two characters are taking very different approaches to their grief. Becca is retreating inwards, baking obsessively, and gradually removing reminders of her lost son from the set. At the same time, Howie is engaging with grief counselling and support groups, and trying to restore a semblance of normality to their lives and relationship. It’s clear, however, from Howie’s irritability and near-constant drinking, that his reaction to their loss is working any more effectively than that of his wife. The lack of judgment that the play attaches to either character forces the audience to confront how they might deal with such a situation, or to reflect on their past experiences of loss. There are no easy answers here, and no pretence that there might be.

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The two leads give wonderfully nuanced performances, inhabiting their characters completely. In many ways, the play is Becca’s story, and Sherralyn capably shows her character’s largely unspoken snobbish streak: she is clearly seething that Izzy is having a baby as an unmarried woman, with a man over whom she had a drunken altercation in a bar, while she has lost her son despite living the “respectable” life. A later action shows Becca is more than capable of rash behaviour, but hilariously she comes to blows over fruit snacks rather than another woman’s boyfriend. David Hovatter’s Howie is a character who often seems to be more reactive than his wife, but both give careful performances that explode into emotional release at key points during the show. It would have been very easy, given the subject, to bombard the audience with constant high energy, but the actors are careful to let the text do the heavy lifting, which makes their occasional breakdowns all the more poignant and effective.

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Lucy Hayton’s mercurial Izzy and Margot Scannell’s deadpan Nat are given the opportunity to play to the audience a lot more, but both demonstrate a great range as they engage with the play’s central tragedy, which of course has touched them too. Completing the cast, Charlie Sloboda-Bolton gives a magnetic performance as Jason, the earnest young man who was driving the car that killed young Danny. The cast all maintain American accents that sounded impressively authentic to this English ear, with only the very slightest occasional wobble. But as my companion remarked, the play’s themes were so universal, and the location so domestic, that the play could have worked in almost any setting.

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Reiko Moreau’s impressive multi-level set is full of details, from crayon drawings on the fridge to family photos on the wall, which disappear during the interval to be replaced with abstract artworks. The cast move around the set with confident nonchalance, completely at home, and selling the illusion completely. Clever stagecraft even recreates the family VCR for flickering late night viewings of Danny’s home videos.

Rabbit Hole is a play that deals in exposing family secrets, with frequent hints that all the characters are hiding still more. What are we to make of the fact that while Becca and Nat argue about Becca’s dead brother Arthur, who we learn committed suicide, Izzy pointedly never mentions him? When Izzy confronts Howie about her friend Rima observing him with another woman in a restaurant, he brushes off the accusation of infidelity, but the issue is never addressed again. Jason is portrayed magnetically as a slightly introverted young man, racked by guilt, but there’s a sudden awkward moment when he responds to Becca’s frustration at the dog’s barking. “You should get his vocal cords snipped,” he says quietly and coldly, before backtracking frantically a moment later. It’s an unexpectedly chilling moment that suggests his apparent bumbling conceals a very different and less sympathetic character.

While often very funny, the subject matter means that this play will never be light entertainment, but this confident production has a pace and style that means it is never in danger of becoming self-important or sentimental. With tight direction from Francesca McInally, the play is pacy and slick, and two hours of gripping theatre flies by until a climax that manages to be both broadly optimistic and ambiguous at once.

 

Andrew Lawston
September 2018

Photography by Robert Vass

From → Drama, Reviews

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