Story of a RabbitStory of a Rabbit is just that and so much more. Part one man-show, stand-up routine, theatre of the absurd, dance, improvisation and poignant drama, it is impossible to categorize but it is a wild and thrilling ride. It begins as you enter the Sydney Opera House’s Playhouse Theatre, where you are greeted, unassumingly, by the star of the show Hugh Hughes – you can’t get any more Welsh than that – as he shakes hands with each member of the audience. Embarrassingly, I tried to show him my ticket, thinking he was the usher, but then you don’t expect the star to be saying hello at the top of the stairs. Story of a Rabbit was first produced in 2007 by English Theatre Company Hoipolloi. It won that year’s Fringe First at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival under the artistic direction of Shon Dale-Jones who continues his role in this production.

Hughes’ off-sider on stage, Aled Williams, provides the musical accompaniment and sound effects, and acts as stage hand lending a certain gravitas, vulnerability and humour at just the right moments. The sparse stage has a few simple props although Hughes warns his audience that they are about to see a multi-media experience and it is.

Through the use of slides, charts, miniature models, dangling potatoes and blocks of wood, Hughes takes us on a journey that seems modern and magical and as transforming as any high-tech experience might be.

The word projected onto the back wall as we enter is Death. This is the story of a dead rabbit and the story of the death of Hughes’ father and the interwoven narrative, which moves between periods in time and the reactions and emotions of the characters, is ingenious in both its simplicity and its power to move. Hughes tells us upfront that he will toy with us, challenge us, prod us about the order of things, of what we know for certain and what we don’t know and whether we will be as sure of things at the end.

Twice during the show, he makes a member of the audience a cup of tea. It brings us back into the moment, reminds us of our humanness and how the simple act of making a cup of tea, can reach through time and space to rescue all manner of memories and ephemera. It is a rare delight when a piece of theatre pauses long enough for us to catch our breath and ponder the emotions that are rising unexpectedly, the silences as powerful as any of the words. Hughes description of his complete bewilderment on hearing of his father’s death and his difficulty in deciding in which order he should pack, bathe or eat, before leaving for his funeral, was genuine and beautiful. It was exciting to see many of the conventions of theatre turned upside down and to see the potential for live performance to communicate with its audience in such as meaningful way.

Sydney Opera House presents

Venue: Playhouse, Sydney Opera House
Dates: 29 November – 10 December, 2011
Tickets: $35 – $29

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