Most plays named after animals are metaphors for certain types of behaviour, particularly those aspects of human nature that are unseemingly, regressive. Alternatively they are symbols for certain emotions or ideas. So what are we to make of a play called Rabbits?
Written by Joe Hampson and directed by Sadie Spencer, Rabbits is, simply put, a comedy whose tangents and revelations exposes and subverts the tropes in the battle of the sexes. The play begins innocently enough with Frank (David Schaal) visiting the abode of Kevin (Alex Ferns) while he’s fast asleep. Once he wakes up, however, he sets in motion a chain of events that are paradoxically surreal and familiar. ‘Beleagured’ by the pet rabbit his wife Susan (Karen Ascoe) has bought him, Frank’s solution is take the rabbit to Kevin, who has been recommended as ‘someone who can get things done’. If things weren’t strange enough, Susan knows exactly where Frank is and Kevin is the only person apart from Susan who stocks papaya juice…
The play’s surreal tone and energy emanates from Ferns himself, who as Kevin revels in the chaos he unwittingly has instigated. Asides from this ‘force of nature’, Ferns plays two other figures who have a big impact on the couple (in a more subdued way) – Andrew, their marriage counsellor and Pete, the friend who recommendeds Kevin.
If the first act is about the lack of self-control the men have, reclaiming their ‘masculinity’ and the right to vent their emotions, then the second act is about Susan tapping into her own deep-rooted frustrations and the real reasons behind the marriage difficulties. Some patterns of behaviour are self-perpetuating, but if one party is forced into the ‘cage’ of responsibility, while the other is cornered into the role of the ‘child’ or a pet with no concerns beyond the moment, who is truly the most happiest or ‘free’? Certainly the vehemence of Susan’s feelings are as alarming to Andrew as they are unnerving to Frank…
As deep as all this sound, there is much to laugh at as the respective characters take it in turns to be unpredictable and vent their anger. While there are facets of Rabbits that are farce-like, what underpins the comedy are the very real tensions that manifest from lack of true communicaton and the annoyance of the little things that grate over time.
As the couple in question, Schaal and Ascoe walk the tightrope between pathos and hilarity as their not-so-secret tensions are flushed out in the open and they take it in turns to be on the defensive. Add Ferns to the mix, it’s a recipe for a memorable evening.
© Michael Davis 2017
Rabbits runs at Park Theatre until 19th August 2017.