Pros: A beautifully choreographed performance, complemented by stunning design.
Cons: The story was stretched out a little too much, and the show lasted just that little bit too long for the tiny ones.
The Velveteen Rabbit was one of my very favourite books as a child. As such, I was interested to see how this magical tale had been realised on the stage, though also slightly nervous, as one always is when seeing a favourite story re-imagined by others.
However, I needn’t have worried. While the performance gets off to a slightly clunky start with a group of men inexplicably dressed in business suits, the story soon begins to take hold. The live piano music is a lovely touch. Christian Roe is exceptional as the rabbit. His performance is subtle, nuanced and clever; it is everything children’s theatre deserves to be but so frequently is not. It’s a delight to watch the audience respond to his gentle, curious portrayal, which is wonderfully free of the usual ears and tail!
The most beautiful scenes of all are those between the ‘Boy’ (Ashley Byam) and the rabbit. The first comes when the boy has lost his favourite bedtime toy and is told to make do with the rabbit instead. The rabbit’s first experience as the boy’s bedtime companion is a tumultuous one. The boy twists and turns, pushing the rabbit out one minute, then cuddling him ferociously the next. It is executed incredibly well, containing enough humour to keep a young audience giggling, yet being clever and interesting enough to keep viewers of all ages engaged.
The set is relatively simple: cloudy skies, white curtains and floorboards, outlined in black, which gives the show a lovely storybook feel and prevents the set from being overcomplicated. The children are enthralled by the fact that toys and other props could be pulled out from little cubbyholes in the floor. In the second half there is slightly more to look at: a vegetable patch, a swing (which I think many youngsters quite fancied a turn on!) and a garden bench. These simply yet effectively convey a sense of place, whilst not distracting from the story.
However, I felt like the story was stretched out a little bit too thinly. It dawdled in places it didn’t need to, which meant that I struggled to hear the story being wrapped up by the narrator over the sounds of restless children. This was redeemed, in part, by the wonderful appearance of a real rabbit onto the stage at the very end, which delighted every member of the audience, but I think a slightly pacier production would have made the ending a lot more powerful.
“What is real?” asks the rabbit throughout. Real is being alive in the imagination of children, which this play most certainly is.
Author: Margery Williams
Director: Purni Morell
Designer: James Button
Booking Until: 26 April 2015
Box Office: 020 7645 0560
Booking Link: https://www.unicorntheatre.com/whatson/21/the-velveteen-rabbit