Rabbit Hole*** (Hampstead Theatre)

Posted: February 10, 2016 in Theatre

rabbit hole

David Lindsay-Abaire’s feel for the pain of ordinary American families facing adversity was evident in Good People, a big hit for Hampstead Theatre a couple of years back. Then the adversity was unemployment; in this play, a Pulitzer Prize winner written earlier, it is bereavement. Although the ladies have a tendency to release their frustration by socking it to anyone who annoys them, none of them is quite the force of nature of the character depicted in Imelda Staunton’s barnstorming performance in Good People. Perhaps things would have been different had Allison Steadman taken the role of Nat (now played by Penny Downie), as originally planned, but, if so, it would not have fitted into Edward Hall’s measured, low-key production that leaves Hampstead audiences not getting quite what they may have expected. Becca (Claire Skinner) and Howie (Tom Goodman-Hill) have lost their 4-year-old son in an accident several months before, long enough ago for the wailing laments to have stopped, but well into the period when getting on with “normal” life is underway. Early light exchanges between Becca and her pregnant sister Izzy (Georgina Rich) hint that there is an elephant in the room, but the writer’s slow reveal technique keeps us waiting to find out what it is and to get to the point of the play. Becca wants to hide all reminders of her child, Howie wants to surround himself with memories; their different ways of grieving is becoming a wedge that is prising them apart. The sisters’ mother, Nat, has herself lost a son and had her own way of coping. Ashley Martin-Davis’ set of the couple’s house has distinct rooms into which Becca and Howie take refuge away from each other and the living room on the thrust part of the stage is enveloped by an audience that is allowed to eavesdrop on their private mourning. The production is at its best when understated, as in the deeply touching scene in which the college boy Jason (Sean Delaney), who had been involved in the accident,  confesses his (probably unfounded) feelings of guilt to Becca. So, no fireworks here. This is a truthful, gentle play telling us that there are no right or wrong ways to handle grief, only different ways.

Performance date: 9 February 2016

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