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Review of Rabbit Hole at Hampstead Theatre

Rabbit Hole at Hampstead TheatreWhen something tragic happens in a family the perceived wisdom is that the people involved go through the Kübler-Ross model of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance – but then what happens? How does life go on after acceptance? This is the basic question at the heart of David Lindsay-Abaire’s play Rabbit Hole at the Hampstead Theatre.

Becca (Claire Skinner) is in the kitchen of her nice suburban house talking with her sister Izzy (Georgina Rich) whilst sorting out the washing. The two sisters are very different to each other. Becca, the older, seems very sensible and level-headed whilst her younger sister, appears to be more hot-headed and reckless in her approach to life. To look at them, you would think that they were simply a pair of normal sisters without a care in the world, but the truth is very different. A few months ago a tragedy had hit them and the rest of their family extremely hard and they – along with everyone else – were trying to cope in their own way.

The two women chat – mainly about Izzy’s recent antics in a nightclub – when Izzy finally drops the news that she is pregnant. For reasons I don’t really want to go into, Izzy was apprehensive about telling Becca this, as she wasn’t sure of the reaction she would get but Becca, immediately starts thinking along practical lines, about things Izzy will need for her child when it is born. Later that evening, Becca and her husband Howie (Tom Goodman-Hill) are chatting about Izzy’s pregnancy and whether she will be able to cope as a parent. As the months go on, we get to meet Becca’s mother Nat (Penny Downie) who has been coping for a long time with the death of her son and, although not always able to connect with her eldest daughter is ready to be there when Becca gets to the point where she wants to talk. And finally, we meet Jason (Sean Delaney) a 17 year old high school senior whose own life has been irrevocably changed by the tragedy surrounding the family.

I have tried in the synopsis above not to mention what the tragedy is that has befallen the family as, when I saw Rabbit Hole I wasn’t aware of what it was in advance and so, I feel the play was even more of an emotional journey for me as an audience member than it would have been had I been forewarned.  

Saying that, Rabbit Hole is an amazing production. David Lindsay-Abaire is great writer and really manages to keep this tragic story just on the right side of the line so that you are not overwhelmed by the grief being portrayed by this extremely talented cast. Set Designer Ashley Martin Davis has produced a very realistic mid-American multi-level suburban home which, right from the start looks exactly like the sort of place Becca and Howie would live in. Combined with some great Direction from Edward Hall, the home helped emphasise the difference in ‘social’ standings between Becca and her mother and sister, giving the impression that Becca has really moved up the socioeconomic scale over the course of her life, whilst her mother and sister have pretty much remained where they were. This difference, lead to tensions between the three – though often concealed nicely – but also to some wonderful comic moments – such as Nat discussing the “curse of the Kennedy’s” during Izzy’s birthday. In fact, for such a serious play, it was surprising how much comedy there was

Claire Skinner and Tom Goodman-Hill are nicely cast as the husband and wife who are sharing the event but initially not able to find enough common ground to provide comfort and help to each other in moving on with their lives.  In fact, their ways of coping are so diametrically opposite that I feared the marriage would break up before the end of Act I.  A quick mention for recent RADA graduate Sean Delaney here. Although not a massive role, Jason is quite pivotal to the story and Sean delivered beautifully. When Jason reached into his pocket for his phone number, his hand was shaking so much I just wanted to give him a big hug and tell him everything would work out fine – even if I didn’t believe it myself.

I think you can tell from the above, I was pretty much immersed in Rabbit Hole right from the start. I cared about all of the characters to the point where I joined them in their emotions as the story unfolded. There were a lot of very believable performances on the stage during this show and at the end, I metaphorically waved them all goodbye and wished them well for the future.

4 stars

Review by Terry Eastham

Becca and Howie Corbett are a happy suburban couple with everything they could want until a shocking and sudden event turns their world upside down and leaves them drifting perilously apart.

Riding the turbulence of domestic life, Becca and Howie must find a way back to each other whilst their unpredictable family tries to bridge the ‘infinite space between’, which life-changing events create.

Rabbit Hole: Meet the company

David Lindsay-Abaire’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama, filled with distinctive wit and grace, charts the path from grief to its antidotes – love and hope.

Lindsay-Abaire’s most recent play at Hampstead Theatre was the sell-out comedy, Good People, which starred Imelda Staunton, and transferred to the West End last year. Edward Hall has directed some of Hampstead’s biggest hits including the Olivier Award-winning musical Sunny Afternoon, Chariots of Fire and Wonderland.

Claire Skinner (Outnumbered) and Tom Goodman-Hill (Mr Selfridge) lead the cast, which also includes Penny Downie (Downton Abbey), Georgina Rich (Dirty Dancing) and Sean Delaney making his professional stage debut, having recently graduated from RADA this year.

This production is made possible by the generous support of Lin and Ken Craig.
Running time is approximately 2 hours including an interval.

A Hampstead Theatre Production
By David Lindsay-Abaire
Directed by Edward Hall
29 January – 5 March 2016


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