The Blue Sky Festival at Porter’s Other Room has seen a wide range of new works covering a wide range of subjects. Here, Emily Garside reviews Neil Bebber’s Rabbit.
Neil Bebber’s Rabbit explores sex and grief in ways which are more closely intertwined than might be firstly obvious. In act 1 we meet a couple at difference moments in their relationship, always seeing snapshots… a late night conversation, getting ready for a wedding, exploring sexual fantasies. Often hilariously funny, Neil Bebber’s writing also accurately captures moments we as an audience know all too well. We’ve all had versions of those conversations – perhaps more than we’d like to admit. It’s also refreshingly frank about sex and relationships. From the stranger elements that the couple explores, to the more mundane, frustrations with their sex lives, and back again to the more extreme conversations about sex. While this couple manages some honesty about sex, what Bebber seems to be asking though is with more information, and more choice about how couples conduct their sex lives-from a drawer full of sex toys to endless availability of pornography, are we adding too much into sex and losing the connection with each other? For this couple the answer seems to be yes, as their relationship disintegrates.
Act 2 opens with two mothers sat at a kitchen table. The box between them contains a plethora of sex toys. The reason they are there is the couple have died. In this short version we don’t learn the details of how, when, why and perhaps the piece is stronger for it. Taking a while for the realisation to hit, we then see these women who would not be natural friends struggle with the immediate situation of confronting not only a box of sex toys but with it a side of their children they didn’t think about, and with that, their grief at their loss once more. Act 2 is a powerful punctuation on Act 1, both tread an excellent line in laugh out loud funny and a darker honesty to the writing.
What Bebber’s play also illustrated was the usefulness of the post-show discussion for these new works. Following the play most of the audience returned to engage with the author and cast to consider the play as it stands, and how Bebber might develop it in the future. For the audience this was insightful in discovering the process behind the play and the actors’ thoughts as they worked on it.
What followed was a thoughtful, respectful discussion between the artists and audience about what worked, what didn’t work, personal interpretations and suggestions for changes and future direction. The feedback gathered was gratefully received by Bebber, who asked honestly for suggestions about future direction and advice. This talkback session demonstrated just how useful events such as Blue Sky Festival can be for writers, and just how engaged audiences are willing to be. Because Bebber’s play had captured audience imagination at this stage, those present were invested and keen to contribute to further developing the work. Opportunities to see work in progress for writers in themselves are a fantastic opportunity, but the kind of audience engagement and feedback Blue Sky has offered, as demonstrated by the discussion following Rabbit shows that audiences are engaged, and invested in new writing.
Emily Garside is a regular contributor to Wales Arts Review.