by Margery Williams.

Unicorn Theatre (Weston auditorium) 147 Tooley Street SE1 2HZ To 19 April 2014.
Runs 1hr 25min One interval.

TICKETS: 020 7645 0560.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 15 April.

Cheap toy makes fine play.
At first, things look unpromising. The briefcase-bearing men approaching the Weston stage from various angles might be from HMRC, come to ask awkward questions about the Unicorn’s accounts.

But the giant sock hanging behind them starts shaking and an alert, innocent face peeps suddenly over the top. This is the cheap toy rabbit of the title, just one of many Christmas presents for the Boy he’ll come to know well. Somehow, when Nanny clears the other toys away the rabbit’s ignored. So it goes to bed with the boy, being tossed, turned, slept upon and kicked about the huge sloping bed of James Button’s design.

For much of the first act Boy and Rabbit bond in imaginative, theatrically exciting games during which the bed becomes a storm-tossed ship among other things. Rabbit’s question to a wiser, older toy, about how he can become ‘real’ seems answered in the reality of his existence with the Boy. But scarlet fever strikes the Boy, and, after staying faithfully at the Boy’s bed, recovery leads to Rabbit’s final disposal. Not only scruffy, with the shine knocked off him, he’s also infected with germs.

At this serious ending, salvation and a wider sense of being real arrive. Dating from 1922, Margery Williams’ story has an overlay of sentiment, but a clear sense of how young people gain a true sense of self. Without the moral finger-wagging of Carlo Collodi’s creation, The Velveteen Rabbit makes many of the points in Pinocchio and – in this guise certainly – more ingeniously and with greater resonance.

Syrus Lowe’s unreflective energy as the Boy, Paul Lloyd’s narrator shifting between strong but never over-emphatic storytelling and such character cameos as a stern, uniformed Nanny, plus Christian Roe’s admirably-judged Rabbit, earnest, eager and naïve – his serious quest to be real has a sympathetic dignity – are excellent.

At the side Paul Moylan contributes the piano score in which Jason Carr enhances mood and pace without challenging the directness of the story’s development. Every aspect and detail of Purni Morell’s production is perfectly judged. This is a delight which must surely reappear. Soon.

Boy: Syrus Lowe.
Rabbit: Christian Roe.
Narrator: Paul Lloyd.
Pianist: Paul Moylan.

Director: Purni Morell.
Designer: James Button.
Lighting: David W Kidd.
Sound: Malachy Orozco.
Composer: Jason Carr.
Choreographer: Wilkie Branson.
Assistant choreographer: Melanie Ingram.

2014-04-16 01:06:41

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