Pros: A heart-warming tale, imaginatively staged.
Cons: It might make you cry!
When you were small did you have a cuddly toy that you could not sleep without and took everywhere you went? Did it become filthy and threadbare after years of love? Is that special friend—be it a bear, a dolly or a rabbit –perhaps still with you after all these years, though other artefacts of childhood have long bitten the dust? If so, then I suspect that this tender and whimsical production of The Velveteen Rabbit will capture your imagination and warm your heart.
The show is based on Margery Williams’ beloved children’s book. First published in 1922, The Velveteen Rabbit is, as far as I can tell, considerably better known in my native US than here in the UK. It tells the story of an unnamed boy who receives a velveteen rabbit in his Christmas stocking. Initially, the boy neglects the rabbit for more glamorous mechanized toys (sound familiar? Well, Margery Williams got there more than seventy years before Toy Story). But after his nana gives the boy the rabbit to sleep with, the boy and rabbit bond and soon become inseparable. At the heart of the story is the philosophical question ‘what is real?’. An elderly toy horse explains to the rabbit that if a toy is truly loved, ‘nursery magic’ will make it become real. Weren’t our most cherished toys real to us?
This is a stylish production, full of gentle charm and whimsy. Christian Roe, in the title role, looks nothing like a rabbit, but we accept him in the role without qualms. In a clever stage device, he wears shabbier and shabbier brown blazers to represent the passage of time. As the Rabbit, Roe is stoical and serious, the quiet straight man to Syrus Lowe’s rambunctious Boy. Lowe perfectly captured the mannerisms of a child; certainly all children surrounding me in the audience seemed to identify with him strongly. Paul Lloyd narrates the story beautifully and plays a range of other characters, most memorably the boy’s fussy nana. Throughout the show, the actors are accompanied by Jason Carr’s thematic piano music, performed by Paul Moylan.
The show places play and the imaginative lives of children at its forefront. There are some enchanting mimed scenes in which the boy and the rabbit play make-believe together. Through imaginative staging, we see their bed transformed into a ship in full sail, or a parading elephant. As this is a children’s show, a true marker of its success is how the children respond to it. Well, they were utterly captivated. But the original material is so substantial and thought-provoking that it will give the grownups something to chew on too.
The Unicorn Theatre brings this beautiful fable to the stage. Just a short walk from London Bridge station, the theatre is dedicated to producing high quality productions for children. It’s a bright, spacious and comfortable venue. The only other children’s shows I have seen in the UK have been pantomimes, and I have to say that the contrast was intriguing. It was heartening to see a children’s show that not hyperactive and frantic, but gentle and reflective.
The ending brought a sob to my throat; I had a cuddly rabbit too.
Author: Margery Williams
Director: Purni Morell
Composer: Jason Carr
Box Office: 020 7645 0560
Booking Link: https://www.unicorntheatre.com/whatson/21/more-dates
Booking Until: 19th April 2014