It’s awkward to admit, but I don’t particularly like one-woman shows. 

I often tire easily at monologues that run for longer than five minutes, find myself craving the dynamism of multiple actors on stage or get put off by a self-serving storyline. 

Rose Heiney’s ‘Original Death Rabbit’ is a remarkable exception to this rule. 

After reading one page of the text, I was immediately drawn into the weird world of a strange and not-completely-lovable loner. What you may expect to be a cliché cautionary tale of internet addiction in the 21st century, warning Gen-Z of their ‘superficial reality’, is quickly subverted by the protagonist ‘UGLY CUNT’ (Rose Heiney’s words, not mine) and her earnest, outlandish humour and hap-hazard recollections of the past. What could be a narration of an all-too-familiar tale of the dangers of the internet becomes a multidimensional portrait of a woman on the verge: a woman whose chaotic relationship with the world around her becomes entangled with the new digital age of the early 2000s.

With this complex play, I wanted to emphasise the dangers of treating mental health as a singular ‘phenomenon’. Of course, the rise in mental health awareness has brought insurmountable positive change; however, with this comes inevitable societal preconceptions that force individuals to contemplate both their own understanding of themselves, and what it means in relation to how the ‘general public’ view their problems. This can cause huge amounts of anxiety, and hinders the progress made by an increased understanding of mental health problems. 

The focus that I intend the show to have is therefore not exposing the inner life of the ‘internet troll’ (or even trying to evoke sympathy for them), nor is it a retributive finger wag at those who spend a lot of time online. Rather, for me, it is an honest, introspective painting of the messiness of what it means to be a ‘victim’ of mental illness. It unapologetically reflects how the hectic, fluctuating world around us affects this picture. There is no guilty party, nor is there a hero. No one is innocent and no one is the sole villain. We don’t see it, but it possesses us and manifests itself in the most gruesome ways, even turning us into someone we are not. 

Daisy Hargreaves’ vulnerability on stage made her the perfect to cast for ‘UGLY CUNT’, who demands an exceedingly large emotional range, all the while maintaining a constant air of nonchalance. Given that the play has one subject (the singular actor), rehearsals inevitably demanded a lot of text work, nit-picking and detailed blocking (even down to the way she moves her mouth and shakes her head). However, I truly believe that without Daisy’s incomparable stage presence, the play would not be the same. 

Though these artistic choices are important to me, what I really want to touch upon is our experience working with the difficult themes in the play. As an individual who suffers from mental illness, grappling with ‘UGLY CUNT’s’ critical self-exploration has been challenging at times. Though extremely fulfilling, it made me realise the significance of this play as a voice for those who so often fall silent, including myself. This is why it is so vital to not shy away from productions such as ‘Original Death Rabbit’ which doesn’t use mental illness as an aesthetic or ‘Unique Selling Point’ as fringe theatre, but rather presents the audience with a multifaceted story for broad interpretation. It is very special, and I highly encourage you to experience its power. 

Special thanks must go to Lily Britton and Natasha Ali (producer), without whom the production would not exist. The process of this production began with Lily as its director and me as the assistant director, but the *cough cough* ISSUES we faced last year unfortunately meant that this was put to a halt. When Lily graduated, this baby was passed to me. I have worked hard to build upon the little time we had on the project last year, but the idea for the play was hers and hers alone, and for that I will be forever grateful. 

By Isabella Thompson

Original Death Rabbit is playing at Cafedral on 12th & 13th November 2021