By Sasha Meaney
Rabbit Hole is the Pulitzer prize winning play by David Lindsay-Abaire, and luckily for us it’s currently playing at the Chippen Street Theatre, Chippendale. The play follows a brief moment in the lives of a family who are coping with the loss of four-year-old Danny. Danny’s presence physically hangs over the family home in the form of his preserved childhood bedroom. It reminds the audience of the tragedy as the family tries to find healthy ways of looking forward while never wanting to forget.
The script is wonderful, and for those who enjoyed the 2010 film starring Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart, a welcome treat - providing wider perspective on how the death of a child affects the extended family as well as the parents. It provides us with four wonderfully articulate characters and treats them unsentimentally as real people. It’s this lack of sentimentality that is most pervasive and effective in Exit Games’ production. Some could even say the show is a comedy. I never expected to laugh so much in this play, given the subject matter, and it took the audience a moment to find their footing in the first act. By the second we are onboard with the dark humour, not laughing at jokes per say, but at an astute observation of human life and just how sadly weird it can be.
While the humour of this play was well executed, sometimes it felt that it overpowered an actual sense of grief and drama. These latter moments were most truly provided to us by Danny’s father, Howie, played by Peter-William Jamieson. Jamieson’s performance is elegantly gradual and understated as Howie struggles to remain level headed, and present for his more agitated wife Becca, played by Imogen Moran. His relationship with his sister in law Izzy, played by Rachel Giddens, is delightful and strong – a positive and rare display of affection between in laws.
As Danny’s grandmother Nat, Alison Chambers presents us with an incredibly professional performance, which is nuanced, a little bit mad and ultimately kind. She emulates a retired matriarch of a family, wanting to do what is best for everyone but often clumsily stepping on her daughters’ toes. A personal highlight was a scene where she moved seamlessly through talking about those who exploit grief, to the death of her own son and then to reminiscing on a funny, innocent memory of Danny. Her work was a tight balancing act between pain and nostalgia that was bizarrely sweet and truthful.
Under Christie Koppe’s direction the play is truly an ensemble piece, and the actors hold each other together like a real family would. Despite the unity implied in a tight knit family drama completely set in the one house, some design elements felt incoherent. The scene changes were long, set to ominous pulsing music that felt apocalyptic and grand and were ultimately distracting from the intimate family portrait being portrayed. The set and props design however, was filled with small gems that were in time with the story – as detailed as forgotten child locked drawers still on the coffee room table ten months later, to the never-ending parade of sweets that Becca obsessively bakes.
It’s a wonderful play. Lindsay-Abaire’s work here is extraordinary in how simply and truthfully it treats the unthinkable. And this production, specifically the cast, nails that plain, everyday hopefulness – where “I don’t know” seems like an exquisitely positive response to the future given the circumstances.
Images Supplied by Exit Game Theatre
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.