Bella is entering her 30th year – a dangerous age we used to be told. For the members of Gen-Y (look it up) portrayed in British writer Nina Raine‘s realistic comedy of manners Rabbit (2006), Time’s wingéd chariot is rumbling along all too loudly on the bumpy road. It’s time to take stock, socialise the hell out of the opportunity and, inevitably, get really ugly with your friends. It’s mostly uncomfortable veritas that emerges as the vino flows and vodka and reputations get slammed in what turns out to be a BLOCK CAPS WITH LOTS OF !!!! kind of party for those who turn up.
Bella’s joined by a handful of friends at her small though positively exuberant 29th birthday celebration in a hotel bar somewhere in Brisbane. Director Daniel Evans has relocated the play to the city, and it works well. Guests include Bella’s good friend Emily, a doctor; former lover #1 Richard, a barrister but wannabe writer; former lover #2 Tom, who works in the city – in Brit parlance a stockbroker or banker; and Sandy, a writer.
On the night of the party Bella’s father, played with intelligence and subtlety by Norman Doyle, is hospitalised and dying from a tumor that is gradually wiping away his seat of emotions and memories; he has refused treatment. Bella is angry with her father for his decision, and guilty for not being at his bedside. We learn it’s been a rocky relationship in a series of flashbacks – heartfelt duets between father and daughter.
Designed by Tara Hobbs, with lighting design by Daniel Anderson and sound design from Anthony Ack Kinmouth, Daniel Evans‘ production of Rabbit for the indie company The Good Room is a sharp, witty, fast-paced interpretation that draws terrific performances from the cast of six, who are just about perfect for their roles. They are as slick and excellent an ensemble as you could want.
The cast is headed by Amy Ingram as Bella, a successful publicist, in a performance that is as robust as it is gentle and nuanced. It’s also in perfect sync with Raine’s shrewd take on friendship and contemporary society. The performances by Sam Clark, Kevin Spink, Belinda Raisin, and Penny Harpham as Bella’s friends are individually and collectively proof of the depth and quality of acting talent we are experiencing right now in this country. Raine writes terrific characters in this – what was her first and an award-winning work for the stage – and the dialogue is hugely enjoyable; I bet the actors loved working on their roles.
Yes, Bella’s Friends are all a whiny, self-indulgent, privileged bunch and, at times, as nasty as they come; with cynical friends like these etc. At times you want to slap them all in turn and, sometimes, all at once. I went for an interval drink (YES!! THERE IS AN INTERVAL!! AMAZE!!) loathing the lot of them but, as Raine develops the play throughout the second act, we experience its real strength – the development of characters whose directness and brutal honesty are, perhaps, their saving grace. You actually do end up ‘caring’ for them – and I count this as one of the markers of a good play/production.
So, whilst opening night saw a lot of first-night adrenalin pumping on both sides of the fence – there were a lot of friends in the house – and there was probably a little too much SHOUTING AND LOUD, I have no doubt this fine company will continue developing and finessing across its season. The tiny Sue Benner Theatre will get full houses, so get in quick.
Rabbit by Nina Raine for the indie company The Good Room as part of !Metro Arts Allies program plays until July 28th. Get details from the website.
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