Park Theatre, 17th August 2017
Even after seeing Rabbits I am scratching my head somewhat as to why I did. Others have remarked on the slightly wayward output of the Park Theatre under Jez Bond’s tutelage but you can’t fault the breadth of the offers and it is all delivered in such a friendly package that it doesn’t seem to matter. Rabbits was another play which, if I am honest didn’t scale any theatrical heights, but did offer a diverting 90 minutes or so and did have a few interesting things to say.
This is writer Joe Hampson’s stage debut, having previously focussed on TV and radio. It sort of shows, as the interaction between the fairly minimal set ,and the three strong cast, across the three acts, was somewhat laboured despite the good ideas. Subversive black comedy with an undertone of menace and disorientating plot twists, underpinning a plea for sexual tolerance, was the vibe that Mr Hampson was striving for – think contemporary Orton – and by and large he succeeded, especially through the second act. It still felt though, that the play that he, and young director Sadie Spencer, saw in their minds and wrote on the page, might have been more acerbic and layered than that which was actually served up. Even so it was hard not to warm to the whole affair.
Frank (David Schaal) and Susan (Karen Ascoe) are a couple with a penchant for spicing up their relationship. Alex Ferns tripled up to play the various foils to the couple’s explorations, Kevin, a Glaswegian low-life with questionable hygiene and career choice, Andrew, a mildly condescending pyschoanalyst and Pete, a friend on a shared holiday. Karen Ascoe looked the most comfortable of the three in her role, with Alex Ferns, off the telly, prone to overdoing it a bit to get the laughs and David Schaal a little stilted albeit in the trickiest part on the small Park 90 stage. You know from the off that all is not what it seems in the couple’s relationship and the way Mr Hampson describes the sexual games that hold them together is sometimes inventive if not always entirely satisfying (no double entendre intended).
So there is enough here to suggest our writer was on to something and it will be interesting to see where he goes next. And I continue to believe that the Park will deliver an absolute belter of a play with wide appeal sometime soon.