Rabbit Hole

Gryphon Theatre, 22 Ghuznee Street, Wellington

19/07/2011 - 30/07/2011

Production Details

It’s been 8 months since Becca and Howie’s 4-year-old son Danny ran out into the road after his dog and was hit by a car. Their grief is still pronounced as they struggle to get back to normality, but they’re grieving in very different, and incompatible, ways. Then Becca’s wayward sister Izzy announces she’s pregnant.

Starring this year’s Wellington V48 Hours Best Actress award winner, Rebecca Parker, Rabbit Hole is a beautifully observed, witty but empathetic play that draws from the reservoir of feelings common to anyone who has experienced the landscape-shifting vacuum left by a death in the family.

By David Lindsay-Abaire (Fuddy Meers, Kimberley Akimbo, A Devil Inside), directed by Tanya Piejus (The Diary of Anne Frank, Cold Comfort Farm)

Showing at the
Gryphon Theatre, 22 Ghuznee Street
at 8 pm on Wednesday 20 to Saturday 23 July,
3 pm on Sunday 24 July,
6.30 pm on Tuesday 26 and Wednesday 27 July,
and 8 pm on Thursday 28 to Saturday 30 July   

Becca – Rebecca Parker (Sammy, Silly Cow, Jane Eyre)
Howie – Joel Allen (The Gondoliers, Monkey’s Uncle)
Izzy – Emma Draper (The Love of Your Life, Middsomer Night’s Dream)
Nat – Jade Valour (Hook, Line and Sinker, I Am A Camera)
Jason – Connor Slattery (Tell Tale Tit, Paradise Cafe) 

Wrenching tale of parents’ grief

Review by Ewen Coleman [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 24th Jul 2011

Grief over the death of a loved one is never easy to handle but when the death involves a child it becomes almost unbearable.

That is the case in Rabbit Hole, David Lindsay-Abaire’s heart-wrenching and painful expose of a couple’s grief over the death of their 4 year old son, Danny in Backyard Theatre’s current production playing at the Gryphon Theatre.

Trying to get back to a life of normality is Becca (Rebecca Parker) and Howie (Joel Allen) eight months after Danny was run over and kill by a car outside their house. All they now have are the memories. But as Becca tries to put away the reminders like toys and pictures Howie wants them kept and watches videos of Danny outside playing. 

So the seething, underlying rage of guilt and recriminations play out between the two not helped by sister Izzy (Emma Draper) declaring she is pregnant and mother Nat (Jade Valour) going on about how she coped when their brother died. The young school boy driving the car in the fatal accident Jason (Connor Slattery) is also involved as a way of trying to bring closure to the incident. 

What could be an overly written and over wrought play acted out overdramatically is not. It gets to the heart of the subject matter with tight uncompressing dialogue that is both painfully real yet tinged with hope rather than despair. 

This production, under the direction of Tanya Piejus, does more than justice to the script in a well balanced production that avoids sentimentality and never allows the play to wallow in a mire of emotional angst. The portrayals of all the charters are real and believable, totally focused and grounded without ever wearing their hearts on their sleeve. The pace is snappy and naturalistic and while some momentum is lost through the quieter parts towards the end the final uplifting moments brings the play to a satisfying conclusion.

As the wife Becca, Rebecca Parker is superb, walking a tight rope of just holding it in but always on the brink of breaking down through meaningful pauses and gestures. When she finally does break near the end, while heartfelt, it is well controlled. 

She is well supported by Joel Allen as Howie her husband, and while his way of dealing with his grief could be considered stereotypically male, his inability to understand his wife is real and believable. 

Emma Draper as the sister and Jade Valour as the mother both provide excellent counterpoints to the increasing tension in the household and Connor Slattery does well as the young driver Jason trying to show his remorsefulness in a drama that is well worth seeing.
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News.  


Make a comment

A moving play and performance

Review by Caoilinn Hughes 21st Jul 2011

Reading the synopsis of American playwright David Lindsay-Abaire’s Rabbit Hole makes you wonder why any theatre company would choose to stage a play that centres so uncomfortably around grief; a play that presents the dark, despairing side of family drama, and doesn’t justify its need for an audience. The controversial theatre-as-entertainment issue comes out to play.

The story follows a married couple who lost their 4-year-old son to a car when he ran onto the road after his dog, less than a year before the play’s setting. The couple struggle to cope with their grief, spend most of their time being belligerent and passive aggressive to each other, family members and strangers alike, and there is only a vague whiff of progress at the end of the play. Catharsis is an ancient Greek word. It has no place in this play, and is one of the few words the husband character Howie (played by Joel Allen, whose performance is committed – if sometimes a little exaggerated) probably wouldn’t look up in his dictionary – one of his many forms of escapism. 

Theatre making is surely challenging enough without taking on a playtext that relies upon the audience relating emotionally to the situation (and therefore on gripping performances to boot). Nonetheless, Backyard Productions’ presentation of this play is not all grim and bleak. There are a few performances that add relateablility and a very real flush in the cheeks to the pallor of this play.

Izzy, the misguided 20-something who has to inform her grief-stricken sister that she is pregnant, is played with much-needed humour, charm and energy by Emma Draper (watch this space). Another very promising youngster on stage is the 14 year old Connor Slattery, in the role of Jason – the teenager who accidentally killed Danny. Slattery has a small role in the play, but his performance is very genuine and touching.

Rebecca Parker has a difficult task in the lead role of Becca (the bereaved mother), portraying a character who is so passive aggressive towards everyone around her that it is difficult to remember or care that she is suffering from grief. The performance is largely internalised and we only are presented with a thin veneer of her personality. Parker’s performance seems more suited to TV Drama than to live theatre, with its internalisation and lack of visible grit. If she were handling raw steaks on stage rather than so many lemon tarts, she might have been less bitter and more gutsy, perhaps.

Jade Valour plays the stereotyped tipsy, waffling, ‘don’t-I-know-it’ mother (to Becca and Izzy) who tries to help haul her daughter back into the living world. Valour’s performance is to-a-tee, but it feels like she has been plucked out of another play down the road. She is the only character with an eastern American Jewish accent.

Director Tanya Piejus must have decided that this would work, as long as we assume she is an immigrant who brought her children up in New Zealand. The play is clearly set in ‘the Hutt’, north of Wellington, with dialogue being adapted to include ‘Trademe’ references and Howie’s risk management job with ‘State Insurance’. However, the pieces of the puzzle – particularly this mother character – really don’t fit together.

Aside from her accent – which is much better suited to the style, dialogue and content of the play (it’s clearly an American play and not a Kiwi one, or call it ‘universal’, but there’s universal American and universal Kiwi!), she’s rattling on about the Kennedys like she’s straight out of the Regan era. She would have been well cast in Kushner’s Angels in America.

Then there’s the difficultly with placing these characters in terms of wealth and class. The characters and play should be clearly middle class, but are they? The mother dresses and speaks differently to the rest of the family, and the text and set don’t match. The characters talk about their ‘big, lovely house’, but the set presents a bit of a dump, furnished with what look like $1 reserve sofas from Trademe. A few changes to the set design and costumes would really help tie things together. Perhaps expectations of production values should be different for co-op theatre, but that’s another argument.

In the end, it is a moving play and performance, but with a few holes that could be mended; both in the set’s sofas and the parent’s hearts.
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News.   


John Smythe July 24th, 2011

I saw Rabbit Hole this afternoon and feel the need to say it now plays as a very credible and creditable production (apart from the set). Sitting half-way back I was fully drawn into the inner and unspoken feelings of Rebecca Parker’s Becca and had no trouble tracking her emotional volatility; an effective counterpoint to Emma Draper’s more extroverted and self-interested Izzy. I completely believed their relationship as sisters. 

Joel Allen (Becca’s husband Howie) and Jade Valour (the sisters’ mother, Nat) complete the intricately balanced depictions of different ways of coping with grief. And Connor Slattery’s polite young Jason, grappling with guilt, adds an essential dimension to David Lindsay-Abaire’s insight into the complexities of grief and guilt brought on by an accidental death.

Given the backstory of a smack-addict brother who had killed himself, it was interesting to see this play on the day social media is interrogating the relative responses to the Norwegian massacre and Amy Winehouse’s death.

As the play progressed I couldn’t help but wonder how I would be in such a situation (always a sign the drama is working) and because I found it all so true – and maybe because I’m an incurable optimist – I had a lump in my throat at the end because I honestly felt a major shift had occurred, in Becca especially; that although catharsis had not happened suddenly or dramatically, the connection between ‘victim’ and accidental ‘perpetrator’ had lifted the central relationship between the grieving parents into a new realm of possibility.  

Julie Roberts July 23rd, 2011

 I am aware the purpose of critique is to generate discussion, and to provoke thought. There are elements of the published critique I agree with, maybe the set could have been more Harvey Norman than trade me.....Maybe all the characters could have had all kiwi or all American accents. Furnishings and set are just icing on the cake. As  Mr Bertolt Brecht himself proved you can hold a striking performance with just a ladder on stage if the performance is good. Incongruity of accents? Well this is Wellington, 2011. My mother speaks with a broad Dublin accent, however I do not, I'm not Irish. The fact the mother in the play spoke with an American accent helped to bring colour, richness, and on occassions lighten the mood. It made the characters with in the play more real. They did not fit into conventional boxes, they had a history and a background. This theme is central to the play how our past, be it immediate or longer term, impacts on our present and our futures. I have over the years sat through many plays from the Royal Shakespeare Company Stratford, The National Theatre London, ST James Wellington to name a few.....thorugh to  regional theatre in the Uk and NZ. I am not exaggerating when I say that the acting standard in this play ( Friday performance) was equal to the big name performances that I have seen. The acting was outstanding. Yes the production is cooperative theatre, however the performances were first class, I was absorbed in the play from start to finish. . So my advice to anyone teetering on the edge to see this play, would be,  I know the subject matter is tough, however if you want to see some really good acting, go as you are missing out!

Make a comment

Wellingon City Council
Aotearoa Gaming Trust
Creative NZ
Auckland City Council