Writer: Richard Adams
Adaptor: Rona Munro
Director: Adam Penford
Reviewer: Mary Scriven
It has been well catalogued that Richard Adams’ first novel Watership Down started life as a story told to his two daughters, Juliet and Rosamond, to while away the time on a long car journey. And this may give the impression that Rona Munro’s clever adaptation, now running at The Watermill in Bagnor is a familyshow. But it is far more than that. Admittedly the story is a classic tale of survival and good against evil, but it also has a strong and exciting plot as it follows the adventures of a group of rabbits made homeless by a housing development and their quest to establish a new warren where they can build a peaceful future.
The production is characterised by the Watermill’s trademark excellence in staging, with a superbly talented cast and imaginative dance, music and costumes, and director Adam Penford has used everything he had at his disposal to extremely good effect. The rabbits are aided in their plight by the appearance of a seagull (with an intriguing Russian accent), and Charlotte Bate’s Kehaar provides light relief from the tension, particularly in a very well executed and memorable ‘flying’ scene as she spies on the enemy for our heroes.
Edward Bennett is a chillingly threatening General Woundwort, complete with black eyepatch, and there are many moments of tension and not a little bloodshed during the telling of the plot, hence the advisory that this is not a show for very young children. But the performances are so convincing (particularly that of James Backway as the fearless and lovable Hazel) that somehow you know that, despite some pretty frightening experiences, all will be well in the end.
It is the so well conveyed drama and tension that prevents you from saying that this is a charming show, but it really is. Richard Adams had researched the behaviour of rabbits before he wrote his book and, in juxtaposing human emotions with animal behaviour, he and Rona Munro in her adaptation manage to produce something really special and unusual for the theatre. They achieve a thrilling adventure story that, with a very delicate touch, also explores ethics morality and spirituality inestablish the telling, giving us all food for thought.
Runs until 23 July2016 | Image: Philip Tull