Tristan Bates Theatre, London – until 27 January 2018
In the ongoing debate about the relevance of theatre today, recent years have more plays created by and for young people. In the sub-genre of monologues, some plays have been written and performed by the same person such as theatremakers Sarah Milton and Milly Thomas. Other examples have been written by seasoned playwrights, whose experience with subverting the depictions of the familiar bring something extra to the table. Which brings us to Bunny.
A seasoned writer for TV, film and theatre, Jack Thorne has a wealth of experience writing about growing up and the disenfranchised in programmes such as Skins, Shameless and This Is England. In Bunny, which is performed by Catherine Lamb and directed by Lucy Curtis, Katie is an 18-year-old sixth form/Year 13 pupil who lives in Luton. Through her description, the Bedfordshire town comes to life and is very much a character in its own right.
Like many towns, Luton is described as having areas with its share of council estates and areas predominantly populated by one ethnic background or another. While Katie’s parents “are Guardian readers”, their socialising with people from ethnic backgrounds tends to be limited to the neighbours ‘on their doorstep’. Katie, however, has no fear in going to other parts of town and ignoring the traditional class/race boundaries. True to her independent nature, Katie’s boyfriend Abe is black, 24 years old and works in the offices above a factory.
While Katie is naturally bright, articulate and in some ways ‘free-spirited’, the play shows how she plays down her intelligence for the sake of her boyfriend. As someone who lives in one of the council estates (and reading in between the lines, didn’t do so well at school or progress to further/higher education) Abe feels uncomfortable with anything that reminds him of his background – including his present place of work. The sense of distrust is further explored with Abe’s friend Asif, who while on friendly terms, suspects Abe knows but keeps quiet something about the management’s plans for the factory staff. In any case, an altercation between Abe and someone from his estate sets events in motion, which takes Katie, Abe and his friends all over town during their ‘manhunt’…
Bunny in some ways can be compared to Philip Ridley’s Dark Vanilla Jungle, in that its narrator talks matter-of-factly about previous things said and done. This ‘amorality’ doesn’t distinguish between ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ (for instance dialling a 0898 number at home, knowing her father would get the blame) but pursues the impulse of the moment. The other way Bunny is similar to Dark Vanilla Jungle is Katie being an ‘unreliable narrator’, unaware of the true seriousness of the situations she finds herself in and with an author’s sense of irony, repeating “I know what I’m doing.”
Lamb totally inhabits the role of Katie, a young woman who lives in the moment, and who is comfortable with her sexuality and the male gaze. What with her curiousity, candidness and living in a relatively small town, her situation is not unlike Emily Lloyd’s ‘Lynda’ in Wish You Were Here.
Bunny looks at among other things, one’s sense of belonging and identity, and as the play progresses, we see Katie finding herself out of her comfort zone in different scenarios. Also, although touched upon briefly, of all the universities that Katie applied to throughout the UK, the one that accepted her and not judged her use of ‘Estuary English’ was one from Essex. The play is full of these oblique observations, which when pieced together, paints a bigger picture about the dissonance between oneself and society at large.
Lamb gives an energetic performance, making full use of the performance space and able to externalise the more nuanced emotions that Katie feels. Asides from this, Lamb is able to take the story of one particular young woman in a small British town and give it a universal relevance.
© Michael Davis 2018
Bunny runs at Tristan Bates Theatre until 27th January.
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