There’s a level of perception of the world around The Original Death Rabbit (Kimberley Nixon), who goes by this name not because she’s changed it from whatever it was to this by deed poll (there is nothing in the monologue to suggest she has), but because her Twitter handle is @OriginalDeathRabbit, for reasons explained in the narrative. Well, sort of – this is one of those stories that (I think in this case, deliberately) comes across as a stream of consciousness rather a structured play with a clearly delineated arc. But it works, inasmuch as the slightly chaotic and seemingly impulsive method of storytelling is indicative of the world of social media that Rabbit likes to spend an inordinate amount of time in, even for a so-called millennial.
Describing oneself in terms of how many Twitter followers one has is, frankly, a little sad, and the play makes some observations on internet addiction. But then again, there is money to be made from being a social media ‘influencer’ – these days, some are the ‘go to’ people for commercial advertising, as much as or even more than the ‘celebrities’. Even the BBC has recognised the value of such ‘vloggers’, or video blog personalities – Joe Sugg, a popular ‘YouTuber’, reached the final of the 2018 series of ‘Strictly Come Dancing’. But not everyone hits the big time: Rabbit admits to not having made any money from her online endeavours.
As the play begins on a relatively high-spirited, if sarcastic, tone, there is little place for it to go except deeper and darker, until the play is not so much about what can be said in 280 characters or fewer, or otherwise a ‘thread’, but about ‘mental illness’, as the play calls it. Another online personality, @hipsterripstercomedy, uses their blog and social media accounts to share about their mental health difficulties – there is indeed some (other) actual online material that does exactly that. What Rabbit perceives as a personal attack from Hipster is responded to robustly, with unintended and unexpected consequences.
All this is of interest to those who themselves use ‘hashtags’ and know what it is to ‘unfollow’ someone. But there are people, ‘young’ as well as ‘old’, who have their reasons for not using social media services, and I wonder if a play like this is rather impenetrable to them. I have to admit, despite being included recently in a list of ‘100 people to follow [on Twitter] in 2019’ for theatre news and/or reviews, I hadn’t a clue what some of the younger members of the press night audience were laughing at on occasion when it came to certain punchlines.
Given the narrative, ninety minutes is a bit too long for something that is effectively an epic soliloquy. The story ebbs and flows, and while there’s nothing wrong with variation in pace and tone, I struggled to maintain interest with some of the finer details of this life story, which goes as far as to tell the audience about who said what to whom in a car park. Some of the non-techy aspects of the story are more relatable, such as the intelligent but relentless friend at university, or the awkward date Rabbit goes on.
There are elements of brilliance in Rose Heiney’s script, with striking imagery in places: when Rabbit’s father is diagnosed with schizophrenia in middle age, she compares it to being “like going to ballet school at thirty-five”. The play ultimately asserts that even in the digital era, one reaps in proportion to what one sows, but also that all hope is not lost. A broad-ranging and somewhat amusing show.
Review by Chris Omaweng
We all have our comfort blankets and coping mechanisms. And if yours happens to be wearing a full-sized rabbit onesie (with ears), what’s the problem? You’re not bothering anyone. At least, not until you’re photographed at the back of a child’s funeral. Dressed as a rabbit. And the photo goes viral.
ORIGINAL DEATH RABBIT
By Rose Heiney.
Directed by Hannah Joss
Set & costume design by Louie Whitemore
Lighting design by Adam King
Sound design by Alexandra Faye Braithwaite
Cast: Kimberley Nixon
Jermyn Street Theatre
16b Jermyn Street, London, SW1Y 6ST
Wed, 9th January – Sat, 9th February