Lyric Hammersmith, London W6/touring
Opened 20 October, 2003

Frantic Assembly have long collaborated with external writers for their physical-ish, dance-ish, yoof-ish shows, which have amassed a solid young-adult audience. However, their current touring presentation is the first time the company has worked on an extant play rather than being involved in the text's creation.

Brendan Cowell's Rabbit premièred this spring in Sydney. It's a fairly hackneyed family drama, featuring the frustrated, drunken mother, the big-mouthed, bigoted father (based, apparently, on a particular Australian radio shock-jock), the articulately rebellious daughter, the endearingly dorky boyfriend and the sinister, potentially disruptive flunky. Blah blah Act One generational conflict blah blah the moneyed life versus the street (heroin and rap) blah blah recurrent motif of mortality blah blah Act Two reconciliation and sundering blah blah. Once the components have been listed, there's really no need to spell it all out. Oh, except the metaphor alluded to in the title: Paul Cave as a talk-radio host (i.e. he trades in rabbiting) nearing death, daughter Madeline's boyfriend Spin rabbit-like in his trembling timidity, and an actual bunny which needs to be slaughtered to provide dinner, all reverberate against one another.

What the Frantics, in the form of directors and choreographers Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett, do with it is... well, is what the Frantics do. They inject stylised movement - sometimes sexy, sometimes vaguely poignant, sometimes (and not always intentionally) absurd. They add a pumping, contemporary soundtrack. They make it look good, with an elegant set, a cast all in their own ways attractive (and with the young couple dressed in standard Frantics unfussy-but-fashionable threads that suggest the company really ought to consider starting its own casualwear label). But they don't actually make the play any better, and over two hours plus (this is the first of the company's shows to require an interval) there are more opportunities to notice the shortcomings.

Indeed, they introduce a certain desperation of their own. Recent Frantic shows have meditated on the end of youth and the first hints of mortality; this production, though, seems palpably to side with the younger characters in a way that, rather than continuing such musings, suggests an excessive keenness to protest that Graham and Hoggett are still down with the youth, so to speak. (And let's not even talk about the rap segments.) In trying to break away from one aspect of the Frantic Assembly formula, the company has unwittingly rendered the rest of it even more conspicuous.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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