“Immersive, evocative, and touching, yet equally raucously funny… An extremely strong cast follow considered, thoughtful direction to create a hit…

Immediately on entry to the upstairs area of Head of Steam, there is a wonderful intimacy between the audience and cast of Suffragette’s newest project ‘Rabbit’. The on-location venue works perfectly in the physicalisation of Nina Raine’s script, centred around Bella, who invites a zany cocktail of guests for drinks on her twenty-ninth birthday.

Working as a small ensemble cast, the actors gel beautifully from the offset. Honor Calvert and Bhav Amar quickly build rapport in an early scene where they crassly discuss sex and previous partners, engaging in wonderfully directed physical comedy when Bella realises her ex-fling Tom (James Porter) is at the same pub as them, despite not being invited. Porter is immediately excellent in providing light comic relief through portraying Tom’s awkwardness, often pausing after short lines of dialogue to demonstrate Tom’s palpable discomfort. When the scene is interrupted by Richard (Ollie Cochran), yet another of Bella’s exes, the two males serve as immediate foils, whereby Cochran’s depiction of a chauvinistic self-inflated ego is somehow still incredibly charismatic. The intrusion of Sandy (Jasmine Starbuck) is hilarious as she enters with sunglasses, and immediately presents Bella’s birthday present: a scratchcard and a twenty-pack of cigarettes. The fact that the majority of the action centres around five people sat at one table, yet still remains highly engaging, is a testament to this cast, and the direction of Charlotte Aspden and her assistant director Henry Skinner.

The ensuing drama centres on themes of female (dis)empowerment, with Bella haunted by her belief that her father thinks ‘men are better than women’, a mantra she is frightened to learn she is also consumed by. The fact of her father’s terminal illness complicates Bella’s characterisation, as she is consumed by a guilt at her not being by his side. It is in Bella’s final monologue that Amar truly shines. The script itself can feel was overly prophetic at times, trying to cram much into a relatively short play, so the fact that Amar’s portrayal of Bella is consistently, evocatively human is confirmation of her talent in drawing complex characters.

The relationship between Bella and her father (Archie Nolan) is presented gorgeously. Nolan remains at a side table for the majority of the show, not physically present at the birthday drinks, but eerily weighing upon Bella’s psyche – this is a fantastic directing choice. Amar works alongside Nolan exceedingly well, with a particular highlight being their use of posture; whilst Bella leans across the table with the aim of persuading her father to continue treatment, Nolan remains slumped, speaking slower and quieter than Amar as to depict the unnamed father’s frustration at his ailing condition with an evocative sensitivity. Nolan has a fantastic sense of vocal control, performing anger, frustration, and love equally brilliantly throughout through subtle changes in tone. Production manager Willa Rowan-Hamilton does a fantastic job with lighting in these scenes, seamlessly casting the bar table into shadows whilst lighting Bella and her father to the side. My only criticism of this separation would be the way Bella moves between the two worlds; I appreciate the choice not to simply enter into blackout between scenes, but I feel more could be made of the music that underpins Bella’s movement back into the bar scenes.

Working as foils throughout, the relationship between Richard and Sandy is excellent, creating a love to hate camaraderie. Both deeply ambivalent characters, their discourse surrounding feminism, oppression, and sex mirrors many of the complications and confusions Bella feels about such topics. Each of Cochran’s movement are deeply intentional, demonstrating an impressive understanding of his character’s insecurities and fears, cloaked by a veil of ego, which culminates in his views on male oppression. Starbuck’s character similarly hides behind a façade: cast reactions to her flamboyant lies are fantastic, curating a wonderful moment of humour through pause and silence. The moment demonstrates Sandy’s insecurities and feelings of unworthiness which she employs through a hardened exterior to combat; I would have liked to see these feelings further fleshed out in Starbuck’s portrayal, and think moments of slower pacing could aid this.

Emily and Tom (Calvert and Porter) work wonderfully as mediatory characters who attempt to reconcile the massively diverging opinions of Bella, Sandy, and Richard. Calvert’s tone is wonderful when nonchalantly discussing Emily’s job as a doctor, with this casual nonchalance making her ignorant to the pain she causes Bella. Similarly, when Tom reveals his secret about a past relationship, we see how this endearing, affable character can act selfishly. This pair’s strength lies in their understanding of pacing, wonderfully employing moments of pause alongside impassioned outbursts as to reveal their characters’ complexities.

Immersive, evocative, and touching, yet equally raucously funny, ‘Rabbit’ journeys through the complications of twenty-first century womanhood in a post-feminist society. An extremely strong cast follow considered, thoughtful direction to create a hit. I would implore anybody to grab a pint, and enjoy the show.

By Sarah Kelly

Photo Credits: Suffragette Theatre Company