“There’s nowt as queer as folk” as some might say. And they’re right. What goes on behind closed doors in some households would make a stripper blush.
Taking a hammer, or baseball bat, and bashing out the brains of a cute little bunny isn’t your usual theatre fare. But never fear, folks (and the RSPCA), no furry friends are actually hurt in Joe Hampson’s dark comedy, Rabbits, which opened on Friday at London’s Park Theatre.
Rabbits, if nothing else, will be remembered for a real bunny (adorable) making a cameo appearance, and Alex Ferns’ completely bonkers performance.
Ferns has found himself frequently cast throughout his career as a psycho or loose cannon – he won Villain of the Year for his evil Trevor Morgan in EastEnders – but here he goes into overdrive, producing an hysterically funny pastiche of a sociopath.
He’s called upon to not only play an insanely over-the-top maniac, but also a gay therapist and a couple’s dodgy best friend.
They’re not all entirely successful but, thankfully, director Sadie Spencer puts us in the mood by making his opener memorably outrageous.
Rabbits offers up three views of the same complicated couple. There’s a wonderful quote in the production’s programme about society’s expectations of normality in relationships.
“Your grandparents seem sweet and innocent but, as soon as they’re alone, Grandma is writhing on the chaise longue while Grandad smears motor oil on his nipples.” Eugh, that thought left me traumatised.
But just what is normal? How do we all behave in the privacy of our own homes?
TV comedy writer Hampson (Skins (E4), The News Quiz (BBC Radio 4) and Newsjack) makes his stage-writing debut with this little gem and it’s a real rib-tickler.
Frank and Susan have been married for 25 years and the spark has gone out of their marriage. He has become paranoid and addicted to buying hats and she is bored. They don’t do anything together any more – not even sex.
We first meet Ferns’ paunchy Kevin in the first act. He’s flaked out on a litter-strewn bed worthy of Tracey Emin. Dishevelled and hung over, his Hawaiian shirt is straining at the buttons over a beer belly, and he’s lying on his back, mouth open, exhaling little snores and grunts.
There’s a rapping at the door and, after a moment’s panic, Frank comes in with a box containing a rabbit. He’s heard that Kevin does “services of distaste.”
“I need you to do something illegal for me.” What he wants is for Kevin to kill Christopher St Tubbins, the rabbit, for £1,000.
Susan had bought him the rabbit in the hope that it would foster an emotional response but the pet barks and bites and is making Frank’s life hell.
Before the evil act can be carried out Susan turns up and the threesome’s conversation reaches fever pitch with the warring couple shouting hysterically at each other and the maniacally grinning Kevin, dressed only in his underpants, encouraging them on.
The energy and eccentricity of the first act is turned on its head for the second which sees Ferns run a comb though his hair and put on some clothes to play Andrew, the couple’s therapist, who tries to mediate before becoming involved in Susan’s sexual fantasies.
The third part of this 85 minute production has the couple, meeting up with an old friend, Pete, who has marital strife of his own because his wife wants to indulge in politically incorrect role play.
David Schaal (Comedy credentials – The Inbetweeners, White Van Man, The IT Crowd and The Office) is the paranoid, erratic and impulsive Frank who enjoys being dominated by his feisty wife, spending their housekeeping on new titfers and doing handbrake turns in the supermarket car park.
He also likes to spice up his image as a man of mystery by telling everyone he’s Mr X – when, in fact, that’s a spelling mistake.
Karen Ascoe overacts wonderfully as the sexually voracious wife. Susan looks so prim and proper in her dull and conventional work-clothes but admits to both Kevin and Andrew that she yearns to break out and enjoy a moment of madness. Why should Frank have all the fun?
I laughed from beginning to end – pausing briefly to gasp when I thought the rabbit was going to cop it – and you will too.
It’s refreshingly original and delightfully dotty with a plot that, once you go with it, reveals a lot about relationships. Amid the mayhem and hysteria there are thought-provoking moments that we can all relate to.
Rabbits runs on Park Theatre’s P90 stage until August 19.
Original, gutsy and hysterically funny, Joe Hampson's Rabbits lifts the lid on a normal couple's relationship to reveal how quirky life can be.