David Lindsay-Abaire’s close examination of the many different ways to experience and cope with grief is sensitively brought to life by Front Foot Theatre – but it feels as though the characters aren’t as fully developed as they could be.
Grief can be experienced and dealt with in many different ways – but the question at the centre of this sensitive and raw play is whether or not there is a right way in handling it. In David Lindsay-Abaire’s Rabbit Hole, we see couple Becca and Howie struggling to come to terms with the death of their son in a tragic accident and the impact that their grief has on other people in their lives – specifically Becca’s Sister Izzy and mother Nat.
Directed by Lawrence Carmichael, this production feels suitably intimate to really make the audience feel that they are as close to the palpable grief that is displayed through the excellently raw performances from the cast who breathe life into the characters with great naturalness when it would be easy to go over the top. While initially it feels as though the play is going to be a slow burner, the sharpness of the humour that is brought out through the production makes it instantly compelling to watch. But the production particularly works during the quieter moments of reflection when Becca is talking asking Nat when will it get easier or when she meets Jason (the person who was most closely involved as to what happened to Danny), with Ryan Day’s lighting really enhancing the emotion of these scenes.
Yet it has to be said that while the theme of grief really shines through each moment and the story comes to a very satisfactory conclusion, it feels as though the characters themselves still remain a mystery – even if the contrast between the way in which Becca and Howie deal with their emotions surrounding death is fascinating to watch. We never get to understand why Nat and Izzy come over so often – except to enhance the sense of distance between the central couple. Yes they are family so of course they would be concerned but the set up as to how they come to be at the house feels slightly clunky. It could also be said that perhaps some of the dialogue and arguments feel as though it goes around in circles and could be tightened up – particularly when Howie and Becca confront each other over the way they have been reacting to the loss of Danny.
This being said, it is still a smart piece of theatre that handles the topic at the centre with great sensitivity – you really do get a sense of the character’s inner turmoil that is heartbreaking to watch – such as when Becca reads a letter from Jason or the sudden realisation a precious video tape has been taped over. It is all these little moments that are filled with detail that makes the whole story feel particularly well grounded.
The performances from all of the cast come across as natural and emotionally raw throughout that it is hard to take your eyes off any of them. In particular Julia Papp as Becca beautifully highlights the contradictions and struggle her character feels about moving ahead in her own life, while Kim Hardy as Howie showcases the character’s need to move forward but is completely at loss on the best way to do it without leaving Becca behind. I equally enjoyed Ty Glaser’s spirited performance as Izzy whose directness is a refreshing contrast to the other characters dancing around each other’s emotions, while Emma Vansittart’s Nat is a calming presence even if her character has a tendency to put her foot in it- her character is one that you can see develop and change the most as she begins to understand her daughter’s needs.
Rabbit Hole is a solid production to watch, but I do feel that perhaps the characters themselves deserved to be fleshed out a little bit more and some transitions between scenes could have been smoother. But there is no denying that it has been sensitively brought to life in this raw and consistently engaging production.
By Emma Clarendon
Rabbit Hole continues to play at the Union Theatre until the 1st May.