A fine revival of David Lindsay-Abaire’s Pulitzer prize-winning play is currently in residence on the London fringe courtesy of Front Foot Theatre.
It isn’t an easy watch. Becca (Julia Papp, who captures the frustration and emptiness of her character) and Howie (Kim Hardy, bringing a sadness to his role) have lost their four-year old son, Danny, in an accident.
As they grieve for him, the set by Ethan Cheek (whites and greys, with a reminder of the child’s clothes and toys literally hanging over all proceedings) highlights their inability to move on. Eye-catching and empty, it effectively captures the gaze the moment you walk in.
Becca’s flighty sister Izzy (a beautifully judged Ty Glaser) and mother Nat (Emma Vansittart, tight-lipped and tragic) have secrets of their own, as we discover as the play progreses.
And where does Jason (Max Pemberton, portraying a nervous teenager still half a child) fit into the narrative? Can he be the catalyst for the family to take tentative steps forward?
The Union’s performance space has been reconfigured; the old cinema seating jettisoned for plastic chairs in two blocks facing the action and a handful on either side. It gives the feel of peeping into a private space, but not wanting to look away.
As Rabbit Hole progresses, we get to know each character. We feel we understand what’s happening before our perceptions are challenged. There are no quick solutions here.
An interfering mom becomes a woman carrying her own private tragedy; a husband who seeks normality simmers with rage. A wife recoils from physical intimacy; a brother absent feels very much there.
It is set in an America that may be on the cusp of the 1990s (VHS is the recording format of choice), but that is not that important as accents occasionally slip. The themes are universal.
You might feel the subject of child death is a bleak one, but this play finds both humour and vulnerability; even a hint that all might be well.
You can watch Rabbit Hole (directed by Lawrence Carmichael) until 1 May at the Union Theatre – tickets here.
Rabbit Hole is produced in partnership with The Child Bereavement and Child Death Helpline. You can donate here.
Image credit: Manuel Harlan