by James Taylor
Bella (Harry Creelman) is celebrating her twenty-ninth birthday with a group of friends who are intricately connected in a web of sexual relationships and desire, whilst her father (Charlie Holt) lies in hospital dying of a brain tumour. Gradually the fairly charged, but superficially trivial, conversation probes deeper into the real problems that concern the play: feminine identity in the modern world and how a woman can participate in institutions such as marriage without surrendering to the oppression on which they were founded.
The plot of the play is interrupted continually by Bella’s memories of her and her father, a masculine authority figure who seems to have shown little respect for her mother. It is significant that the play’s name should be his pet name for her, since this articulates how Bella rebels throughout the play against masculine dominance. She does this mainly by having control in her relationships and yet fails to find a new identity for herself outside of his definition of her as Rabbit.
The occupation with the sensual and the immediate runs throughout the play: Richard (Jonathon Rhodes) is chastised at one point by Sandy (Emerald Fennel) with the words, “You dislike looking at something, you have to turn it into something else, love, romance…,” which emphasises the feminine characters’ rejection of the masculine categories of meaning. The realisation comes late in the play that “you need light and dark”, that you need some categories of meaning or binaries to have a meaningful existence. The question it leaves is how feminism might redefine the masculine categories that it has so far failed to do.
Though the thematic aspects of the play deserve due respect, it often fails to deliver in form and style: the father’s scenes often fail to seem relevant or make their meaning clear and thus appear as intrusions. The play sometimes fails to keep the balance in creating colloquial and natural conversation between stylistic exaggeration and clichéd caricature.
However, the cast manages to conceal this most of the time: the dialogue throughout the play has vast amounts energy, especially the dialogue between Jonathan Rhodes, Harry Creelman and Emerald Fennell, which injects life and authenticity into the play. Alex Bowles (Tom) and Jenny Ross (Emily), though playing less acerbic and domineering characters, inhabit their characters excellently, recreating a more genuine social atmosphere in their responses to the other characters’ violent outbursts. Charlie Holt had the hardest task in this play in handling the intrusive father scenes in a role that would have suited an older man, but often manages to salvage them through the sheer intensity of his performance. Seeing Rabbit is not a matter of life and death, but it certainly asks some interesting questions about feminism, though its style is at times clichéd, and even at its low points the actors provide an energy and intensity that makes it an engaging play.