Writer: Kieran Lynn
Director: David Lockwood
Reviewer: Holly Spanner
A play concerning a farmer’s radical attempt to restore his land to its supposed former glory, and the differing reactions of his children, or Bunnies for short, has quite possibly the most accurate title devised for theatre in recent times.
Pessimistic and feeling nostalgic for the past, Farmer Stamper’s farm is falling apart when he chances upon a leaflet offering the solution to a problem which may not exist. Determined to make his farm the rural idyll it once was, he sets to work eradicating the species he believes to be the most harmful to his land of all the non-natives, the European Rabbit. Facing resistance from rabbit loving daughter Eva, he tries to convince his reluctant son to help the cause. In a twist of fate, Max, a seemingly simple person is ignited by a spark of passion. What starts as a way to improve the family’s quality of life, becomes about purifying the land. Passion turns to obsession, fuelled by greed as business thrives. Blinded to all else, madness sets in, with extreme consequences.
Winning the theatre a Peter Brook Empty Space Award, Bunnies was originally created for The Bike Shed Theatre in Exeter, as a result of their New Blood scheme; a platform which allows playwrights to submit new works in response to a public provocation.
Described as a dark comedy, Bunnies is more dark than comedy. Intense and thought provoking, the play begs the questions; is it really best to get what you want? Without the rationing of others, how far will your thoughts and ultimately actions take you?
The play contains some gory moments, including the pivotal scene in which Max impulsively guts a dead rabbit. In the low light, his hands can be seen covered in blood, while various innards are removed from the animal for pleasure. Mr Bunny Rabbit, a puppet created from the skin of a rabbit (complete with head), is used as a source of amusement for Stamper and disgust for Eva; provoking both reactions with the audience.
With a cast of three, Eva (Annette Chown) provides the unwavering voice in the production. Strong, decisive and determined, there is a touching moment in which hers are the eyes referred to in Garfunkel’s classic song Bright Eyes, albeit still retaining the link with rabbits.
Richard Pulman takes on the rôle of Stamper, playing the character with perhaps a hint of autism. Easily influenced, Stamper learns to think for himself; but learns too late, losing control as his plans spin away from him.
Max, played by Jolyon Westhorpe portrays a fascinating, if somewhat disturbing transformation from simple and uninterested to manic and possessed, emphasising the old saying about the quiet ones.
The compact set folds out from a single box positioned in the centre of the stage, approximately one metre cubed. At the beginning of the play, the cast assemble the set, positioning various props around the stage to music, while dressing into their characters. Setting the scene in such a way makes it feel a little unorganised and awkward to watch at the start, however it does create an element of surprise as to the volume produced.
Featuring some interesting rôle reversals and shifting perspectives as to who the audience sympathise with, Bunnies contains strong language and is not recommended for those who are strongly against taxidermy. Originally advertised to include an interval, this has since been removed making the play a good length free from distractions.
Deliciously dark and thrilling, Bunnies is a surprising and gripping piece of multi-layered contemporary theatre. Worth a visit.