Sex, bunnies and more than one climax threaten to make or break a marriage in Joe Sampson’s play, ‘Rabbits’. If that sounds a bit odd, just wait until you see the play! With a cast of three and the same number of acts, Rabbits runs to 90 minutes with no interval, weaving verbal threads through each section to unsuccessfully disguise a disjointed narrative.
Frank has been married to Susan for 25 years. She’s domineering, unaffectionate and distant; he loves wearing unattractive hats. Rather than buying her spouse a Stetson for his birthday, Susan gives him a rabbit. Frank, convinced the furry critter is more possessed than a Chucky doll, asks a local hoodlum, Kevin, to kill the evil carrot-muncher. Will the cute bunny make it? And could Susan be trying to bump off Frank with petrifying pets? Neither question requires an answer; there’s far more to Sampson’s play than this Tarantino-esque plot.
A madcap first act offered several clues that the scene was staged in more ways than one: verbal slip-ups, wooden characters and clunky pacing. The second act confirmed my suspicion but just as I began to feel comfortable with my understanding of events, everything I had to come to admire about Frank and Susan was weakened by silly contradictions and cumbersome psycho-babble.
The latter was arguably a vehicle to delve deeper into the dynamic between the spouses, but it strayed from its path to careen into a heap of excuses for the couple’s behaviour. That jarred, but not as much as the hard-hitting finale. Exposing a new side to the duo and containing a well-meaning, topical message, the play suddenly wrapped with a limp joke. All the energy of Ron Jeremy suddenly collapsed like Hugh Hefner coming off Viagra.
The show is a bold, ambitious exploration into ‘normal’ behaviour behind closed doors, illuminating the unique, unconventional tricks long-term couples use to maintain a loving relationship. Unfortunately, the script fails to utilise similar techniques to prevent a strong start from flagging.
Further explanation would expose too many plot twists and it would be better to experience the production as I did: blind and gobsmacked. I thought I’d been transplanted into a parallel universe by the end of the show, questioning the structure and scratching my head in confusion.
Still, it was gratifying to see a play exploring the friskier, sexual side of the older generation. If my friends are any example, there’s a lot of bizarre bonking occurring in and out of the bedrooms of the over 40s. Admittedly, none appear to have a pervy penchant for killing rabbits although I’m now questioning how well I know the couple who “lost” their pet cat last week.
The cast, directed by Sadie Spencer, also warrants praise. Alex Ferns showed off his range in no less than three roles, including the brilliantly twisted rabbit-killer-for-hire, Kevin. David Schaal hammed it up a bit too well as tormented hubby Frank but Karen Ascoe’s turn as his controlling wife, Susan, was the night’s eye-popper, eclipsing the fellas and helping to elevate the weakest parts of the script.
There were moments when the biting humour – sinking deliberately into cheesiness – didn’t cut deep enough for my liking, but I admire what Sampson was trying to achieve. Rabbits is a ballsy show (no pun intended), which losses its spark after an exciting start. If that’s sounds a bit like a long-term relationship to you, you’ve understood the irony I experienced while watching the show.
Cast: Alex Ferns, David Schaal and Karen Ascoe Theatre: Park Theatre Writer: Joe Sampson Director: Sadie Spencer Performance Dates: 26 July to 19 August 2017