Like Rabbits, Brighton Dome, theatre review


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The Independent Culture

Given it was inspired by a short story by High Modernist wordsmith Virginia Woolf, and adapted for the stage by Lucy Kirkwood - a playwright who just won every award going for the thinky, wordy Chimerica - you might expect more, well, words in Like Rabbits.

But performed by dancers Ino Riga and Ben Duke - he’s also Kirkwood’s collaborator here, and artistic director of Lost Dog company - this 50-minute dance-theatre show has very little speech.

That’s not a criticism, however. A theatre-maker does more than just pen snappy dialogue. And as a movement piece, Like Rabbits expresses Woolf’s simple but swiftly devastating love story in new ways, in a new time and on its own terms - as any adaptation has every right (even, arguably, a responsibility) to do.

Its source, ‘Lappin and Lapinova’, follows a newly married couple whose rush of love is expressed through a little in-joke: they are a king rabbit and queen hare. But while their intense, imaginary world becomes all-consuming for her, it’s soon a tiresome relic for him. 

While the dynamic in Woolf’s story is very much ‘domineering man, fragile woman’, here it’s a game of two halves. Rather than making a point about patriarchy, Kirkwood (as she explains in the programme notes) is more interested in portraying equals who simply fall out of step with each other.

It’s brought up to date - the dancers wear modern clothes, before changing into flesh-coloured suits with furry haunches (fear not: there  are no Playboy bunny ears here, it’s all very subtle). The pair meet in a nightclub scenario: loud electronic music, flashing lights, Riga smoking nonchalantly while Duke amusingly poses and peacocks. She manages to be both lithe little gamine and an in-control, coolly confident woman - a far cry from the sweetly needy girl of Woolf’s story. And Riga’s own come-hither dance features a more explicit invitation than even the free-loving Bloomsburyites might have managed: she writhes knowingly to the lyrics “fuck me/I am so beautiful tonight”.

It gradually all gets more… rabbitty. They may leap rather than hop, and suggestively twirl rather than going at it like the proverbial, but with crouched postures and alert scampering, they’re definitely bunnies. Riga and Duke evoke that self-contained alternative reality of an in-love couple; their characters are mutually dependent - physically as well as metaphorically - on each each committing wholly to their imaginary rabbit-world.

But cracks appear: he drifts back towards the everyday, putting proper shoes on, reciting a shopping list, even complaining with comic self-awareness that his legs hurt from the crouching. She, twitchy and wide-eyed, becomes more withdrawn.

It forms a sad and absorbing demonstration of how that dizzy, us-against-the-world feeling inevitably diminishes over time. Like Rabbits ends with a modern image of mundanity familiar to anyone in a long-term relationship (I won’t give away exactly what) - and while it may lack Woolf’s slicing linguistic potency, it does full-stop the show with a physical, tragi-comic humour that is very much its own.