REVIEW: RABBIT at Theatre@41


Cara Doherty (she/her) partakes in some experimental theatre

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Image by Cara Doherty

By Cara Doherty

Experimental puppet-based theatre isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the local theatre scene, but this is something that York-based theatre company Foxglove Theatre are trying to change. As a group of young creatives living and working in the area (their Executive Producer Ione Vaughan is a University of York alum), the company spied a gap in the market that RABBIT hopes to fill.

Exploring the psychological damage of childhood trauma, RABBIT follows a bunny’s attempt to find her way back home after waking to find herself lost in a treacherous forest. Lead character Rabbit is faced with dangers great and small, natural and malicious, contending with thunderstorms and terrifying monsters. Ultimately, however, the greatest threat to the bunny’s safety are the people she trusts the most – those that are meant to keep her safe.

Foxglove describe themselves on theatre app Stagedoor as providing “challenging theatre for both audience and actor” and RABBIT definitely succeeds in this manifesto: one can only imagine the toil of carrying a 60 minute show alone while contending with multiple characters, a puppet and a tight programme of visual and auditory effects to keep in time with. But George Green carries this play with ease, clearly understanding the demands of puppetry as learned through their training with the Leeds-based company The Object Project. The character of Rabbit feels real and raw – through clever movement, Green brings the childhood toy alive. The heartfelt emotion behind the piece still feels natural despite the play’s experimental leanings.

This is a play that relies heavily on atmosphere — the studio theatre becomes an amalgamation of bedroom, murky forest and hellchamber with skill and efficiency. Utilising seemingly every visual and auditory effect at their disposal, you feel as if you could reach out and touch the damp undergrowth even as your eyes promise you that Rabbit is still, supposedly, in a ‘safe’ domain. In this technical area, the production really shines, likely as this is in line with Foxglove’s ethos. "Our company believes in preserving theatre in an age of multimedia, not by binding ourselves to tradition but through adapting the stage alongside the screen" commented the company’s production manager and lighting designer for their debut production in June 2022, a staging of Brad Birch’s psychological dark comedy The Brink. There is no doubt that RABBIT is an expertly-run immersive experience.

I’m not certain the metaphor at the centre of the play – Rabbit as a representative of the experience of and reactions to childhood trauma – is quite as fruitful as is necessary to sustain the entire performance. At points, the script feels slightly weighed down by the repetition of this key idea. It left me wondering if some deviations from Rabbit’s storyline and a greater focus on the cycles of violence that her carers/abusers are trapped in would have offered a welcome change of pace.

Conceptually, however, RABBIT and the company behind it are forward-thinking in their vision, and I thoroughly enjoyed my introduction to the more experimental side of York’s theatre scene. I look forward to a York that takes more risks and receives its due rewards.

Editor’s Note: This performance was seen on 2 March 2024 at Theatre@41 Monkgate.