Theatre Review: Rabbits

What: Rabbits written and performed by Emily Steel, directed by Daisy Brown, presented by State Theatre Company South Australia

When: Until 14 October 2017

Where: Plant 1 Bowden

How much: Adult $37, Concession $32, Under 30s and Primary/Secondary Students $22 (buy tickets here)

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“Do you want some tea?”

Well, now that you mention it, that would be lovely.

The audience files into Plant 1, each holding an empty teacup – some with saucers, some without. We are being led by director Daisy Brown into a set of a tiny living room, incongruously cosy in the huge, dark, empty warehouse space that surrounds it: squashy couches, chairs, and a coffee table with a plate of biscuits. A woman with short dark hair, dressed in jeans and an olive-green jumper, is sitting at the table, brewing a pot of tea. After a moment’s pause, Emily Steel looks up at us, and asks if we want some tea.

We’re not going to see the play she meant to write, Steel tells us once the cups have been filled. She has not been able to finish her “clever play” centred on a rabbit plague as a metaphor for immigration or invasion. Instead, we hear her own story – of a writer who moved from London to Adelaide for her boyfriend’s job and of her culture shock, her writer’s block, her journey to motherhood, her intimate fears and frustrations, and her struggle to live with her neighbours.

“They say I am an immigrant, but they are also immigrants. They make me feel like I have no home.”

She breaks the ice by poking fun at Australian linguistic quirks – doona, thong – and asking us half-jokingly: “Why are you so nice? Is it because you’re stupid? It must be because you’re stupid.” The audience laughs. But the sense of unease engendered by the dark, echoing space around us, the sense that Steel’s, and our, little patch of tea-drinking home is fragile and under threat, is never far from the surface in this play. Although Rabbits is technically a one-woman show, other characters appear in surprising ways. Sinister, rabbity figures (Sam Calleja and Dee Easton) hover at the edges of the scenes, a physical manifestation of the forces that plague Steel’s character.

“If someone came to my house, and took my child … and then they said, ‘I acknowledge the traditional owners …'”

Watching Rabbits is a powerful, intimate experience. The atmospheric live score by Mario Späte is excellent. We are not quite sure when or whether Steel is speaking to us as a writer or as a fictionalised version of herself, but the connection she creates with her audience is compelling regardless. In some ways, I found the play to be almost too personal. The script touches on Islamophobia, the plight of refugees, the difference in the way white and non-white immigrants are treated in Australia, and Australia’s continuing inability to fully come to terms with its dark history of Indigenous dispossession and the Stolen Generations. But none of these is really drawn out explicitly or explored much beyond a single line or scene. These were just the allusions I picked up, but there were a couple of other instances where I felt there was supposed to be some kind of metaphor or symbolism that I couldn’t quite decipher. Perhaps I’m too literal-minded, or perhaps I’m wishing for something that this play wasn’t intended to be, but I wanted these broader implications to be drawn out and unpacked further.

“I’m the rabbit. I don’t know if I have any right to be here.”

Nevertheless, Rabbits is a gripping piece of creative work, cleverly staged. And the tea was lovely.
4 out of 5 stars

— Matilda Handsley-Davis

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