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Little Rabbit

Jane McNulty
Small Mercies Productions
Quaker Meeting House
to

Little Rabbit is a play that manages to consistently surprise and mystify as it reveals more about itself. Staged on a set that consists of half a staircase and a single chair, the audience finds Susan. She's all clad in pink, a colour that she loves, and is more than a little obsessed with being a good girl. There's a flood outside, the heavy rains don't seem to be stopping any time soon and Dad has been asleep in his chair a long time. And piece by piece, through her occasionally almost circular chatter, we learn about this young girl, who may not be quite as young as she sounds, and lives with many secrets she doesn't understand.

It's not long into the play when the first hints that Susan's story might be somewhat darker than at first imagined begin to appear. But the script by Jane McNulty has enough twists, turns and tangents that manage to spool out the narrative in ways that stop the audience feeling like they're being dragged out. The constant turning of the screw, as new hints of strange events are dropped, as well as an ongoing concern over some ducks swimming on the flooded road, ensure things never get dull. The engagement is also, in no small way, due to Bill Hopkinson's fine direction, and lone actress Deborah Pugh, who has wowed Fringe audiences in her various performances with Theatre Ad Infinitum.

In the wrong hands, a performance such as this could come off terribly. But as a Lecoq trained performer, Pugh jaunts and flails in an uncanny childlike fashion, all elbows and knees and unspent energy. Her mannerisms never feel forced and she clambers and clings to the banister and steps of the set with a practised familiarity that feels truly lived-in. She also deftly balances a vocal performance that has the requisite childlike qualities, despite coming from the vocal chords of a grown woman. In short, it's an absolutely absorbing performance and, as she winds through McNulty's unravelling mystery, it's impossible not to be drawn both into the story and into investing emotionally in Susan's plight.

There's no avoiding that this is, ultimately, a very dark play. The creeping dread, as well as the ticking clock of the slowly flooding house, keeps the tension constantly rising like the muddy waters. But it's the unspoken details that the audience must fill in with their minds that will make or break it for each individual; that and the choice to opt for a moment of audience inclusion late on, which could, depending on the wit and engagement of the participant, scupper the entire show. It's a brave choice, in a bold play, that will have you entranced from the start and leave you shaken and horrified.

Reviewer: Graeme Strachan