Saturday, 17 October 2015

A Rabbit for Kim Jong Il, Griffin Theatre, The Stables

This is a sweet little play that ultimately kinda doesn't work. Partially because ... in the end, it's about North Korea. Well, it's not about North Korea. It's the age old story about an innocent who goes abroad and ends up out of their depth. Except that the abroad is North Korea. And it kinda doesn't work to be sweet and innocent and little about North Korea. North Korea isn't a country where sweet and innocent things happen. It's a place where there's a brutal dictatorship that has been going on for quite some time. And a play that takes place against that backdrop without really engaging in it tends to feel kinda feeble.

Kit Brookman's script is taken from an anecdote about a German rabbit farmer whose specially bred giant rabbits were traded to the North Koreans, allegedly as part of a potential breeding program to break a famine. There's significant expansion of this (sending the German rabbit farmer after his rabbit, letting the rabbit have a voice, enlisting the surprising assistance of a friendly pet shop owner, and letting the two Koreans have their own contrasting agendas), but none of this really serves to widen the appeal of the original anecdote.

Steve Rodgers as the farmer is at the centre of the story is firmly sympathetic throughout. Kate Box has a messier time of it (her character twists are never entirely convincing) but she plays whatever her characcter is meant to be in the moment with conviction. Kaeng Chan's Chun is underdeveloped as a functionary who appears to have bigger plans - there's a nice sense that he's uncertain how his plans will play out and just as bewhildered as everybody else, but his character doesn't quite get that third dimension for full buy-in. Meme Thorne's Park Chun-Hei is a firmer martinet with some of her own oddities, but again, she isn't really fully dimensionalised as anything other than a threat. Brookman plays the rabbit with sweet naivete but appears a tad out of his depth when asked to play anything beyond happy hopefulness (when worries start applying, they don't appear to fully land in his performance - and in any case, I'm not entirely sure that the choice to give the rabbit more of a personality than the Koreans was a wise one).

Lee Lewis' production doesn't avoid the sentimental and too-damn nice pitfalls of the script, though it does move reasonably through the international action. It feels almost like it's trying to be a parable, but parables do need simplicity to work, and this doesn't quite get a firm sense of why it's telling the story it's telling. So unfortunately I can't quite recommend this.

No comments:

Post a Comment