Jermyn Street Theatre, London – until 9 February 2019
This week, a teenage girl in the States crashed her car whilst attempting the Bird Box Challenge, prompting the local police to issue a statement begging people not to drive whilst blindfolded. The 17-year-old probably thought she would post the video online and bask in the admiration of her followers. Instead, her (unquestionably foolish) actions have made her the target of ridicule and vitriol from total strangers across the globe, the vast majority questioning her right to drive, to reproduce, and even to exist.
I was reminded of this story whilst watching Rose Heiney’s Original Death Rabbit, directed by Hannah Joss, in which a young woman (Kimberley Nixon) inadvertently becomes an internet meme – the Death Rabbit – after being photographed in the background of a child’s funeral procession wearing a pink bunny onesie. Seeking an escape from her own insecurities and the trauma of her father’s recently diagnosed schizophrenia, she throws herself headlong into the world of the Original Death Rabbit, eventually becoming so consumed by her online persona that she begins to lose any sense of her real identity.
Now, on the eve of her 32nd birthday, she looks back over her decade of Internet “fame” and reflects on how it’s affected her life, relationships and mental health. More importantly, she sets out to do what the internet so often fails to do – provide context to explain how she’s ended up where she is.
Nixon gives an outstanding performance, commanding our attention and sympathy throughout as she engagingly delivers Heiney’s insightful and witty script. For someone like the Original Death Rabbit, who’s always judged herself on how others perceive her (she was once wracked with guilt after being told by a friend that her favourite poet Philip Larkin was a racist and misogynist, and that by liking him she was aligning herself with his views) the internet was always going to be a dangerous place, and her obsessive reaction to it is inevitable but also very relatable – whether or not we like to admit it.
Anyone who’s ever been active on social media knows the little thrill of seeing a post liked or shared, and the sense of rejection – or worse – when something we’ve said or done online fails to land as we intended. The Original Death Rabbit’s need to be validated by the approval of strangers might be extreme, but it’s also very understandable.
But that’s not all we can relate to. The minute I walked in and saw Louie Whitemore’s set – a cluttered, neglected living room in which the only pristine items are the Richard Curtis movie posters adorning the walls – I had a feeling the play was going to be right up my street, and I wasn’t wrong. The Original Death Rabbit might be flawed but she’s not unlikeable, and our 90 minutes with her are easily as entertaining as they are disturbing. She has a passionate – bordering on aggressive – love for Richard Curtis movies, which gets some of the biggest laughs of the night, along with her sardonic impressions of her whiney younger sister and patronising leftie friend. And her story, though dark, is also enjoyably quirky (let’s be honest, anything involving a pink bunny suit would struggle to be too deadly serious).
Photo credit: Robert Workman
Funny, sad, brilliantly performed and with a cautionary message that feels more necessary by the day, Original Death Rabbit kicks off Jermyn Street Theatre’s 25th anniversary year in triumphant style. Highly recommended.
Original Death Rabbit is at Jermyn Street Theatre until 9th February.
Can’t see the map on iPhone? Try turning your phone to landscape and that should sort it. I don’t know why but I’m working on it… 😉
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