Brad Birch’s star may be on the rise, but this lukewarm production of one of his subtler plays leaves much to be desired: prescriptive direction and design and staid acting combine to create a rather dull story of the trials and tribulations of parenting. At the White Bear Theatre Club.
With plays at the Royal Court, Theatre503 and the Soho Theatre littering his CV, Brad Birch is clearly on track to become one of the new writing scene’s latest darlings, but this does come at the expense of smaller companies now picking up on and performing his pieces in smaller scale productions: which is brilliant for him and a great acceptance of his talent, although it may lead to underwhelming productions of his work.
Which is what is on display here: Where the Shot Rabbits Lay isn’t the most riveting script, but you can see how it got a rehearsed reading as part of the Royal Court’s new writing programme. Following a father and son as they embark on a camping trip, ostensibly for the divorced father to spend time with the son who lives with his mother, their struggles with their family situation and generational gap rise to the fore.
And that’s basically it. There’s not much of a dramatic arc, although the two characters (Man and Boy in the programme) are well-defined and believable. There’s a sense that this is less a story about them and more a piece about family – their lack of names notwithstanding, their situation is one I’m sure many can empathise with, from either perspective, and I’m sure it has the potential to ring very true for many an audience member.
However, this subtle little play suffers dramatically here from an underwhelming production. Every aspect seems to hamper the above instead of enhancing it. Actors Peter Warnock and Richard Linnell (who both have excellent credits) deliver lines dully and very naturally, but there’s no zest or fire to their performance, almost as if the delivery is too natural and threatens to be overwhelmed by sheer banality.
I lay this quite heavily at director Roland Jaquarello’s feet: their relationship has no energy, and he’s directed them ponderously. The setting up of the campsite is too detailed, with very long sequences of taking up and putting down a tent, and it’s all just a bit too earnest.
The same could be said of the set design, which is just too detailed: the backdrop is beautiful and very atmospheric, but dead: it doesn’t so much recreate the sense of being in nature as standing in front of it. The sound design does little to create the forest setting, and the only important sound effect (a gunshot) is far too quiet and nowhere near shocking enough, in story terms. Props are over-detailed (making the fake fire stand out badly), except in the case of the titular shot rabbits, which are nowhere near visceral enough to give their scenes enough gravitas.
Lights are good, though: Roger Simonsz does a rather great job of shifting from day to night effectively, although it’s hardly the show’s saving grace. Efforts have been made, but the result is lacking, especially in places where it really matters, and the result is just a bit dull.
To be fair, I don’t think this is one of Birch’s better scripts, but this production shouldn’t be the first nail in the coffin: there’s plenty there to like, and in a strong production, this could really sing. This just isn’t it.