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A CurtainUp London London Review
Watership Down



Some will stop running and others will be born, but there will always be rabbits.
---- Spirit Rabbit
Watership Down
Matthew Burgess as Hazel
(Photo: Keith Pattison)
The Lyric Hammersmith prides itself on its history of rather fine Christmas shows. Their 2006 offering is a dramatic adaptation of Richard Adamsí perennially popular Watership Down. With kung fu kicking rabbits, giant vegetables and a happy ending, this show fits straight into the tradition.

This production brings a wholesome integrity to this portrayal of Adamsí moving tale with great reserves of imagination and energy. Trampolines allow the cast to bounce around freely and kick-box their enemies. With a rough and ready style, the rabbits jump through simple hoops to show them leaping in and out of underground tunnels.

It may come as an initial shock to some people that the characters have no fake ears or even cottontails. Rather than relying on elaborate costumes or an artificial imitation of rabbits, the world onstage is created as if from the perspective of a rabbit. The carrots, for example, are about five feet tall. Moreover, we sense the panic when a rustling in the woods could mean imminent death. The predators (including crows, cats and dogs) are equally terrifying as, for example, the stoats have cut-throat knives instead of teeth. The 1940s costumes create a vague sense of wartime conditions and what it must be like as a prey animal, continually exposed the danger. Nevertheless, we see the fun as well as the fear in a world where the oversized carrot can double up as a pogo stick and the lettuce as a space hopper.

The story follows a band of outsider rabbits who escape their threatened home and, encountering terrifying obstacles on their way, search for a new safe warren. As in the book, the characters are depicted on stage with great personality, warmth and, paradoxically humanity. There is the intelligent, trustworthy Hazel (Matthew Burgess) and his scrawny smaller brother Fiver (Joseph Traynor) who might be puny but is also sensitive and has a Cassandra-style prophetic sense.

Providing some humour is Kehaar, the wounded seagull (Richard Simons) who has a strong accent and develops a reciprocal arrangement with the rabbits (worms for scouting). As the villain is the severe General Woundwort (Barry Aird) whose protective autocracy turns out to be a fascist and murderous rule. Daniel Williams was fantastic as Bigwig, the big and brawny but loyal rabbit of the group. Helena Lymbery was also outstandingly rabbit-like as the doe with the unpronounceable name: Thethuthinnang. The rabbits have their own mythology and religion, which they relate to each other with storytelling and the help of the onstage musician James Keane.

This show does not have flashy scenery, camera tricks or many special effects. Instead, there is feeling and adventure, excitement, a bit of scariness and death but overall a heart-warming vivacity.


Directed and designed by Melly Still

With: Barry Aird, Matthew Burgess, Jim Findley, Cassie Friend, Matti Houghton, Helena Lymberry, Victoria Moseley, Richard Simons, Joseph Traynor, Daniel Williams
Onstage Musician: James Keane
Lighting: Harvey Brough
Music: Chris Davey
Sound Design: Martyn Davies
Running time: Two hours ten minutes with one interval
A Lyric Hammersmith Production
Box Office: 0870 050 0511
Booking to 13th January 2007
Reviewed by Charlotte Loveridge on 27th November 2006 performance at the Lyric Theatre, King Street, Hammersmith, London W6 (Tube: Hammersmith)
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Our Review


©Copyright 2006, Elyse Sommer.
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