Rabbit Hole is a Pulitzer Prize winning drama from playwright David Lindsay-Abaire. You might be familiar with some of his comedies, Shrek the Musical, or his latest success, Good People. However Rabbit Hole was the first time he was inspired to write in a more formal, naturalistic style. It was first produced in 2006, and made into a film in 2011, starring Nicole Kidman (for which she received an Oscar nomination). This year the play comes to the intimate Hampstead Theatre, under the direction of Artistic Director, Edward Hall, and where it will run until early March.
The story revolves around a family called the Corbetts. They have suffered a truly shocking event, the death of their young son, Danny. The play explores how their conflicting methods of grieving slowly grind away at their marriage, and as they struggle to comfort one another. Lindsay-Abaire was inspired to write the story by his teacher at Julliard, who gave him some advice, ‘If you want to write a good play, write about the thing that frightens you most in the world’. It wasn’t until he became a dad that he truly understood what this meant.
For the most part, the narrative unfolds around Mrs Corbett, or Becca, played beautifully by Claire Skinner (you’ll recognise her from Outnumbered). Her repressed husband, Howie, is played by Tom Goodman-Hill (Mr Selfridge), her rebellious sister, Izzy, by Georgina Rich (Dirty Dancing) and her wisecracking, fiery mother, Nat, is played by Penny Downie (Downton Abbey). We also see Sean Delaney, a recent RADA graduate, play Jason, the tormented individual responsible for Danny’s death. And aside from the odd dialect slip, there were believable performances all-round.
The characters, with their contrasting personalities, are unable to understand each other to the point that any effort to console or empathise is inevitably short lived. I was surprised to watch them seek brief moments of pleasure through the constant eating of dessert. They ate their way through 3 pots of crème brulee, a birthday cake, a torte and a selection of lemon squares. I’m still unsure whether this infatuation with dessert is hilarious or tragic. The costumes by Kay Smith, also helped accentuate the personalities. Izzy wears dark, anarchistic clothing. Becca has a clean, mumsy wardrobe and Howie spends most of his time in his formal, restrictive workwear.
The sound design, by Paul Groothuis, is sparse; we hear the bark of a dog, or the tweet of a bird but the main focus is the silence. The only other sound being a small musical sting, created by Tim Phillips which signals each change of scene. The set also contributes to this tense production and the fact that we are observing a household in mourning. Reminiscent of a family sitcom, it captures an ordinary American family home, complete with a beige living room sprawling out from a large kitchen, over which Danny’s bedroom hangs ominously. The only colour comes from the alphabet fridge magnets and drawings which remind us that we are witnessing a family fracturing before our eyes. “Even the most unlikely events have to take place somewhere.”
This Hampstead Theatre Production is emotionally charged; bringing you to the brink of tears and stopping just before it takes you over the edge – leaving you quietly stunned.
Rabbit Hole at Hampstead Theatre until 5th March 2016. For more information and tickets visit the website.