‘Bunny’, which played for just one night at the Portland Arms, felt like a rare treat.
The play is an extended monologue from the point of view of ‘Katie’, played by the wonderful Grainne Dromgoole, and both Dromgoole’s performance and the masterful writing of Jack Thorne (whose other work includes ‘Skins’, ‘This Is England ‘88’ and ‘Glue’) combine here to really transport us into Katie’s fully formed and fascinating mind.
Katie is an eighteen-year-old stuck in time and space and in denial about her own self, vividly describing the state of inertia she finds herself in, and her experiences in various run-down Luton neighbourhoods. She addresses the audience very directly, even dancing with them and throwing paper party hats at them, as she tells the story (with many digressions) of a fight her older boyfriend gets drawn into after a young man knocks his ice cream out of his hand. Katie’s boyfriend loses the fight, but he and his friends subsequently pursue the young man across town, with Katie and her clarinet case in tow.
This form of storytelling is incredibly vivid and evocative, with Katie speculating on character traits and putting on different voices for different characters. In the best way possible, this meant that I often forgot I was watching a play, with this theatrical experience perhaps most reminiscent of the brightly coloured worlds we enter in our own minds when we are read stories as children, with Katie asking us to follow her story in our own heads rather than by watching it being acted out before us.
This kind of childish speculation, and the possibilities for individual interpretation of Katie’s story, is one which is characteristic of Katie and of the play itself. ‘Bunny’ plays well on the fact that, as Shakespeare’s Macbeth tells us, ‘present fears are less than horrible imaginings’. We get the impression that a lot of things in Katie’s life are blown out of proportion, but others which she skims over or finds hilarious are deeply uncomfortable for the audience to hear and to speculate on. For example, Katie lingers for at least five minutes on an interaction with a boy from her school, who does not seem to recognise her when they meet in a corner shop, but frequently makes flippant and passing jokes about race and sexual harassment, most of which fail to raise anything more than an uncomfortable muttering from the audience.
These ‘horrible imaginings’ seem more distant in the first half of the play, which is set on a raised platform at one end of the Portland Arms’ music and theatre venue. The stage is filled with homemade cardboard set pieces covered in teen magazines, balloons, and approximate props with another label written on them (such as a space hopper playing ‘CAR’, and a violin case playing ‘CLARINET’). Sitting in contrast to the somewhat more light and comedic first half, we feel a heightened suspense and sense of threat in the second half. When we return from the interval, the performance space has been inverted, and the audience sits on what was once the stage, watching Katie finish her story surrounded by grey cardboard boxes and dimmer lighting in what was once the seating area, including a horrendous sequence in the car of one of her boyfriend’s friends.
Witty, charming, and chilling in equal measure, ‘Bunny’ is a truly special trip into the extremely individual psyche of a slightly strange individual.
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