18/01/2008 - 16/02/2008
Nina Raine’s debut play Rabbit is real sex in the city.
Bella – nicknamed ‘Rabbit’ by her Dad – is a year away from 30 … help! While her ‘lifestyle’ seems like every twenty-something’s dream, she has something else on her mind… Her father is dying and she’s not quite sure whether she is grown up enough to deal with it.
So, the 29-year-old celebrates her birthday with a motley bunch of well-wishers … none of whom really know each other. The evening turns into spiky conversations and sex-wars. Bella is torn between memories of her father and the people who are supposed to be her nearest, dearest and most intimate friends.
Over this toxic evening, Bella and her friends are uncovered through sharp jibes, innuendo, and the obvious input of alcohol.
Should she face reality and go to her father’s bedside, or should she stay to see through a potent evening with ex-lovers, a nymphomaniac and friends with hidden agendas?
Rabbit‘is a rich, sexy, raw, sharp-toothed and stylish debut play from Nina Raine. Described by Hollywood Reporter as "Witty and Biting… Rabbit‘ is a firecracker about the battle of the sexes" The Spectator called it "Completely riveting. A truly stunning debut." And it was listed as Time Out‘s pick of the Week.
Starring in their debuts at Circa Theatre are Tania Nolan as Bella and Matt Minto as Tom supported by Danielle Mason, Sam Snedden, Mel Dodge and Peter Vere-Jones.
This production is the Australasian premiere.
Circa Theatre, 1 Taranaki Street, Wellington
Bookings 04) 801 7992 or www.circa.co.nz
Bella: Tania Nolan
Tom: Matt Minto
Emily: Danielle Mason
Richard: Sam Snedden
Sandy: Mel Dodge
Father: Peter Vere-Jones
Set: Brian King
Lighting: Ulli Briese
Stage Manager: Corinne Simpson
Lighting Operator: Rosie Olsen
Graphics: Rose Miller, Toolbox Creative
Set Construction: John Hodgkins and Iain Cooper
Metalwork Construction: Phil Halasz @ Fusebox
Pack In Crew: Eric Gardener and others
Publicity: Kate McGill
Box Office: Linda Wilson
House Manager: Suzanne Blackburn
Approx 2 hours, incl. interval
Dazzling surface; fine, smart performances
Review by Timothy O'Brien 04th Feb 2008
Circa’s main stage (Circa One) has Nina Raine’s Rabbit, a play set in very similar territory [to Armslength].
Five twentysomething London professionals have gathered in a London wine bar to celebrate the 29th birthday of Bella (Tania Nolan).
Bella has a successful career in PR and is far better off than her friends, with the possible exception of city-investment type Tom (Matt Minto), a former lover whom she has invited to join the party on a whim.
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More style than substance?
Review by Helen Sims 29th Jan 2008
Upon walking into Circa One for Rabbit you notice several things that are out of character for the main auditorium at Circa Theatre. Firstly, the seating block has been altered to be in a “theatre in the round” style (where the audience sits on all 4 sides of the stage). Secondly, the set is downright stylish, accented with incredibly “now” blue and red lights. Set designer Brian King has done an excellent job of creating a modern, trendy bar atmosphere – assisted by playing Dirty Three as the pre-show music. A large, glass, multi-sided table dominates the centre of the stage – this is where Bella, or Rabbit as she is affectionately known, will convene with a disparate group of her friends for an evening. It also happens to be the night her father is dying in hospital…
The play begins with a confrontation between Bella (Tania Nolan) and her Father (Peter Vere-Jones). We soon realise that these occur outside the bar as “flashbacks”, triggered by the events of the present. The present is Bella’s 29th birthday, celebrated at a flash bar/restaurant with friends who know her well but don’t know each other. Apparently this is because Bella is both a control freak and likes to be the object of undivided attention. Already there with Bella is her oldest friend, Emily (Danielle Mason) a likeable doctor in training who thinks Bella should be at the hospital with her Father. Across the bar they spot Tom, Bella’s ex-lover played by Matt Minto. He joins them, and becomes a bemused observer to the ensuing gender battles that play out. This conflict is largely created by the last two arrivals, Richard (Sam Sneddon) and Sandy (Mel Dodge), two highly opinionated, insecure and over-compensating egoists. Debates over jobs, sexual objectification and other aspects of 20s life quickly escalate into battles, indicating the tension underlying these relationships, particularly in the case of Bella and Richard, her boyfriend for many years. Given the amount of resentment these two characters still seem to have against each other it seems a miracle they are still friends. Sneddon does an excellent job of portraying the complex mix of emotions Richard feels for Bella, and Mason and Dodge both have scene-stealing moments as Bella’s girlfriends.
The writing is often sharp and witty, with the characters openly talking about sex in the manner of Sex and the City. Sandy in particular is reminiscent of a young Samantha due to her man-eating bravado. From the second half the main debating point is put forward by Richard: that woman objectify men far more than men objectify women. Sometimes how the ensuing debate relates to Bella’s relationship with her father is unclear, although we do get the sense that it has been a difficult relationship and that this has translated into Bella’s difficulty with male relationships in general. The character of Bella didn’t feel sharply drawn enough to justify the frequent intrusions of her memory. A performance by Nolan in which she often shouts or is hysterical doesn’t help to increase sympathy for her.
Although there is a lot of style, I did wonder about the substance of this play. Raine has been awarded awards for being a promising playwright and I thought this was apt to describe this play – it is promising, but not quite all there yet. I also would have preferred to see this in a site specific, or at least more intimate, setting. I understand in England the play has been performed in a bar – this would have struck me as highly appropriate. It also seems a bit too divided in its aims – it seems at once to want to interrogate a young woman’s grief over the impending death of her father and explore sexual politics. It does the latter quite well, but the former feels like it only gets a shallow treatment.
Originally published in The Lumière Reader.
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Tania Nolan – credibly vicious
Review by Lynn Freeman 23rd Jan 2008
Rabbit is a cross between Sex in the City and the David Auburn play Proof – an uneasy mix sometimes but a play with heart and something to say underneath the hour and a half of raucous squabbling over a birthday dinner.
Nina Raine is a young and successful British playwright and she’s got a sharp mind and edgy sense of humour, both of which are reflected in Brian King’s set that’s all steel and glass sharp edges.
Her lead character, Bella, is celebrating her big day as her father lies dying in hospital. True, she’s hard, domineering, selfish, headstrong, cruel and competitive. But as the wine’s consumed and she fights with her friends, the truth comes out. The audience learns it in short (too short) moving vignettes of Bella and her father in the weeks before.
The bulk of the play is set round a restaurant table. Bella holds court, mercurial, now vicious, now laughter hysterically, and it’s a credit to Tania Nolan that she makes her not only totally credible and even likeable.
Her two former lovers, Matt Minto as Tom and Sam Snedden as Richard (both terrific), are at times competitors, and at other times brothers in arms, with Raine spending rather too much time raking over the whole ‘battle of the sexes’ arguments.
Danielle Mason is such a sweetie as the good young doctor Emily, that you initially wonder why she sticks with the oft ghastly Bella, but old friendships are like that, and Emily knows Bella much better than we ever will.
Mel Dodge plays the man hungry Sandy like Samantha from SitC – ballsy, inappropriate, socially inept. Peter Vere Jones has too little time on stage as Bella’s ill father, but what time he does have really packs a punch.
Phillips has set his production of Rabbit in the round, and it works like crazy, though it means his actors must always be on the move so no part of the audience feels like they’re missing out. With the recent passing of Sir Ed Hillary and Hone Tuwhare, Rabbit shares worthwhile facts and thoughts about death and memories.
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Volatile chemistry produces excellent ensemble work
Review by John Smythe 21st Jan 2008
Named for a pet appellation that’s used just once in the dying moment, English playwright Nina Raine’s Rabbit marks a young woman’s rite of passage from the residual mindsets of childhood and adolescence to the next level of adulthood. But it’s done in the context of a 29th birthday celebration in a bar-cum-restaurant, where sex, body parts and debate about gender values are the main topic of conversation.
That’s one way to make a serious play commercial, I guess, although I am assured the obsessions, values and ruthless debating tactics the play depicts are authentic for the driven A-type, late-twenties professionals, plus one self-doubting wannabe, who make up the increasingly drunken and volatile party.
The counterpoint that brings their behaviour into objective relief is party-girl Bella’s internal preoccupation with her dying father, who appears to her in privately remembered scenarios as the evening unfolds. His right to die despite her resistance to such a radical upset to her known world is another major point of contention.
Amid all the competitive banter about cock-shapes and bum-holes, jobs and vocations, success and failure, and the eternal power struggles between the sexes – echoed in Bella’s unresolved relationship with a father she sees as controlling and undervaluing her – the most interesting debate launches the second half. "Women treat men as sex objects" is the proposition put by Richard, barrister and ex-boyfriend of Bella.
The selection of guests, who all know Bella well while most have never met each other, makes for dynamic interactions that cleverly avoid undramatic exposition, because their getting to know each other aligns with the audience’s desire to do the same.
Director Bruce Phillips has cast the roles superbly and staged it well, making full use of Brian King’s splendid in-the-round set, featuring a hexagonal glass-topped table and three run-off areas for entrances and exits, and the staging of some of the memory sequences. Enhanced by Ulli Briese’s lighting design, the sense of classy, glassy, brittle fragility is extremely apt.
Given the dramatic conventions are pretty, well, conventional (unlike the creative ingenuity Branwen Millar brings to similar themes and concerns in her excellent Armslength, playing a parallel season in Circa Two), the performances are crucial to the success or otherwise of Rabbit. Happily this ensemble rises to the challenge with alacrity.
Tania Nolan rides Bella’s emotional roller-coaster through a head-space hall of deflecting and reflective mirrors with elusive skill, crashing through her self-imposed barriers at last to bring herself, and most of the audience, to tears.
As her Father, Peter Vere-Jones haunts Bella to sobering effect, personifying her subjective view of the man who has so angered and frustrated her while making him real enough to win our empathy.
Bella’s doctor and trainee surgeon girlfriend Emily is clearly delineated by Danielle Mason, who chooses to hide very little in a facially expressive performance. Her fascinated articulation of the gory details of surgery is memorably pitched.
Bella’s ex-lover Tom was not invited until they found each other by accident in the bar. Matt Minto (who comes to Circa via training in Australia and several years of working in London), quietly navigates, with intriguing circumspection, the shark-infested pool he has dropped into.
As the wannabe writer girlfriend Sandy, predictable giver of ‘scratchies’ as presents, Mel Dodge goes bravely over the top, exhibiting predatory sexual aggression and all the other cringe-inducing behaviours that arise so monstrously from low self esteem. Her moment of pathos is quickly countered with a snarl.
Richard, the lawyer who aspires to writing literary novels – the one thing he’s not an instant success at – is the most complexly drawn after Bella, and Sam Snedden fleshes out his aggressions and sensitivities with compelling accuracy.
The increasingly volatile chemistry between the five in the bar, compared and contrasted with Bella’s history with her father, makes for a compelling couple of hours of intimate theatre.
With two plays at Circa addressing young women’s transitions to greater maturity, especially in the face of their relationships with men as affected by difficult father-daughter relationships, the target group of younger theatre-goers are spoilt for choice. See them both, I say: get into practice for the Fringe and NZ International Arts Festival. That’s what it feels like for us critics.
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