EFR - Reviews of How to Catch a Rabbit

How to Catch a Rabbit

Fri 5th – Sat 20th August 2011

reviews

Madeleine Stottor

at 10:07 on 13th Aug 2011

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LSE’s The Revolving Shed presents at the Fringe this year ‘How to Catch a Rabbit’, a new work written and directed by recent graduate Alex Rodin. Inspired by his experiences meeting gypsies leaving in London, this play examines the interactions and conflict between gypsy and gawja using an innovative structure and original musical score.

‘How to Catch a Rabbit’ is certainly powerful, and thought-provoking. Opening with the cast on stage repeating bird noises and distinctive physical gestures, this commitment to detail and disorienting use of actors continues throughout. The play alternates between scenes like the opening, with Stan (Pip Willett) delivering bitter monologues amidst a dehumanised cast, and more realistic conversations and domestic scenes. It’s a tight, well-directed, angry little play, with some truly fantastic acting. Willett’s Stan in particular is slick and scary by turns and Anya Clarkson’s Nell was well-drawn and humorously portrayed. Shou Jie Eng’s score is really fantastic, complementing the tension and tone of scenes perfectly, although I’m not sure that the composer need appear on stage in one of the final scenes.

My problem with ‘How to Catch a Rabbit’ was its lack of real plot. Slang like gaver and gawja lent the gypsy voices authenticity; other language like ‘visceral imagery’ and ‘oh yes indeed’ feels more incongruous, but not impossible. The play is clearly trying to make a sharp comment on society, and its treatment of marginalised groups, and it does succeed in this. Nell’s comments about Muslims (‘not even English’) being more respected than gypsies, allowed to set up their own schools, for example, offer a new point of view on contemporary issues. The problem is that nothing really happens here. Eric returns from prison, but we never find out for certain whether he committed the crime he was ‘done’ for, and his arrival doesn’t kick-start any action. On stage throughout is a girl I presume to be the character listed as Sonya but she never speaks, only sings occasionally, and while Lizzy Ferguson’s voice is lovely, I don’t quite understand who she was, or what she was doing.

‘How to Catch a Rabbit’ is a compelling and committed production, and does force its audience to consider their own perceptions of a race which is still so persecuted, despite being the ‘only race never to go to war’. It is a student production, and Rodin’s debut as both writer and director. The cast make excellent and interesting use of the space they have and limited props. However, the play offers no solutions to the complex problems it presents. ‘How to Catch a Rabbit’ stops short of really engaging its audience, by failing to characterise the gypsies fully enough and give them something to do with the anger generated between dogs and rabbits, police and gypsies.

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sophie ainscough

at 10:30 on 14th Aug 2011

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Reading the programme of How to Catch a Rabbit I was hopeful of a thought provoking and original performance. Whilst I am convinced that the script was beautifully and intelligently written, its content was sadly mostly lost in an albeit dramatically impressive performance.

The play moved between well acted scenes of the Nettleback gypsies’ daily life and abstract, rhythm dominated scenes of chanting and music. Although well choreographed and aurally and visually striking, unfortunately in the early episodes of the latter it was difficult to distinguish the content of the words above the crescendo of imitated birdsong and violin playing. In one particular scene involving the clashing of pans and a rounders bat and a roaming horses head, the words “gypo” and “filth” were all I could distinguish from the chanted refrain. Although this was not always an issue, later scenes offering a more comprehendible combination of sound and meaning, it unfortunately affected the overall coherence and story line of the play. This is a real shame, since individual performances are strong, Anya Clarkson providing a successfully comic touch as single mother Nell, hounded by Mr Graham over Noah, the diabetic pony. Steph Linsdale gives a strong performance as Cass, determined to make the turf of Nettleback bloom with her gardening, whilst domineering Stan, Pip Willett, turns instead to growth through investors and breeding roosters.

There are glimpses of brilliance: the rabbit chase paralleled by the gypsies’ fear of discovery with “blood on their hands” is grippingly tense, but overall the vividness of the play is fragmented. As the lights went up one audience member enthused it was “very good, very clever”, whilst another confided to her neighbour: “I didn’t know what was happening most of the time”. Given an incomplete picture of a bold and lively community restrained by regulations, I was left feeling like How to Catch a Rabbit somehow had more to give.

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