Is there a step-by-step guide to overcome the loss of an important person? While some say that there are guides to this, Rabbit Hole showcases that there is no straightforward answer, and even time may only dilute the pain. The script and characters of this production are well crafted and relatable, and it brings an important mental health problem front and centre; the person who appears to be the least affected or vocal on the surface may in fact be the worst impacted.
Howie and Becca, portrayed by Kim Hardy and Julia Papp respectively, process the grief of losing their son, Danny, very differently. It is clear that the audience are meant to feel conflicted on their respective approaches and how we might, if we were put in that circumstance, cope with the situation. While each arrives at their conclusion differently, the key takeaway message is that one should be ready for confrontations, whether with unhelpful well-wishers, loved ones, or the source of the problem itself.
The clash between Howie and Jason (the one who caused the boy’s fatal accident), is a perfect demonstration of the aforementioned confrontation. The stage capitalises on the small spacing between the actors and the audience, allowing the audience to share the tension and the awkwardness of the situation with the other characters in the scene. If you are fortunate to catch the single tear shed by Howie shortly following the incident, this alone is enough to send a sharp pain to the heart and make one well up.
Ethan Cheek’s set design is cleverly crafted. Of note, everything is in an off-grey colour palette except the props related to Danny, thus creating a sense of monotone in Becca and Howie’s life, in the absence of their son. The ceiling containing children’s toys is a nice addition, metaphorically showing how that joy is out of reach of the family.
While the piece was very well done, there were aspects that felt out of place. Becca has given the family dog (which indirectly caused the death of her son) to Nat, but later asks for it back because Nat is making it fat. This charged moment comes immediately after a major and emotional argument between Becca and Howie, and did not feel needed: the audience were still in a state of sadness when they were hit by the comedic dialogue. To me, it was emotionally confusing.
Additionally, Director Lawrence Carmichael has made a conscious decision to have Jason deliver his first lines in the play from the back/side of the audience. This way, the audience has to choose to either turn to look at Jason or focus on Becca, but can’t do both. Given the stairs used by the actors to exit the stage is right in front of the audience, it was unclear why the dialogue was not delivered there instead, to allow the audience to see Jason at the same time as Becca and Howie’s response to the letter.
Overall, the creative team and the actors deserve much praise for Rabbit Hole, bringing an extremely difficult topic to centre stage and portraying it in an impactful manner. While the entire cast is to be applauded, Kim Hardy’s performance stands out without a doubt. For anyone in search of a story that will leave you thinking for days, Rabbit Hole should not be missed.
Written by: David Lindsay-Abaire
Directed by: Lawrence Carmichael
Set Design by: Ethan Cheek
Lighting Design by: Ryan Day
Produced by: Helen Rose Hampton, Joanna Buchta
Rabbit Hole plays at The Union Theatre until 1 May. Further information and bookings can be found here.