Razz writer, Aisling Fahey, went along to the opening night of ‘Bunnies’ at the Bike Shed Theatre. Here is what she thought…
On the 2nd of November I saw the opening night of Bunnies (For Short) which was written by Kieran Lyyn, directed by Fin Irwin and performed at the Bike Shed Theatre. The programme describes the play as ‘a play concerning a farmer’s radical attempt to restore his land to its, supposed, former glory’. I was unsure of what to expect as it also stated it was a black comedy on extremism.
Walking into the theatre, old fashioned piano music was played and I felt the set really captured the setting of a farmer’s house with the bread box and old cassette player on the side. The play revolved around a family of three, a rather cynical father dressed in wellies with a grumpy countenance, an optimistic daughter whose firm in her beliefs, and a son who at first seemed like pure comic effect however came to play a prominent role in the second act. Stylistically, the play drew on many of Brecht’s techniques. A projected slideshow on the wall told the audience a summary of each scene which was an interesting addition, making it clear to the audience that they were watching a play.
The play was very farcical, think along the lines of an old English comedy such as the Good Life and you’ll have an idea of the kind of humour that was at play. I felt the characters were introduced well with snappy conversations and scenes which set up the awkward family dynamics. For example, the character of Max produced many laughs due to the relationship he had with his father, Stamper. The writing drew comedy from the riddles and confusion of the characters on stage, for example scene two was described as ‘a practical solution to a problem that may not even exist.’ This nonsensical talk had the audience laughing on more than one occasion.
The main theme of the play was then introduced, Stamper reads from a pamphlet that what is destroying the land is ‘the foreign species’ and there is then a very ironic moment when Stamper acknowledges the audience and says ‘animals, of course’, when it is clear that the whole play stands for the nature of extremism and examines the idea of natives and race which is very prevalent in today’s society, where we have seen the dangers of extremism such as in the form of the radical BNP party.
The audience then sees as Stamper becomes increasingly fixated with killing all of the animals on his land. He changes into a butcher’s apron which becomes gradually more stained with blood as the scene progresses and he kills more animals. Certain lines within the play really emphasised the underlying theme of race, for example, when the father is making black puddings with the animals he has killed, he then decides to make white pudding saying ‘that sounds better than black’.
Act 1 Scene 6 saw the shocking change of Max’s character, far from the comic relief who said little and didn’t get involved, he reads the pamphlet and suddenly becomes caught up in the idealistic view that extremism offers. This drastic change in his character helped to show that extremism is dangerous as it exploits the weak and vulnerable who feel as if there is something missing in their lives and that extremism in some way offers the solution to this problem. There is then a funny montage scene in which Max and his father bring in stuffed animal heads to the house, which get increasingly bigger in size, and hang them on the wall. In the next scene, Max wears a hat mirroring his father and begins to talk intelligently and have conversations with Stamper, which is a long way from the awkward silences at the start of the play.
The black comedy then really does take a turn into the dark. Max becomes consumed with this idea of making a better land and becomes aggressive to Eiva when she stands in his way. He becomes the driving force and outruns his father’s initial ideas by insisting it is time to remove unwanted natives also. The play contained a number of comical songs, some more successful than others. At the start of Act 2 there is one of these songs in which Max and his father sing about ‘when I started killing’, making light of the horrific acts they are carrying out.
In one scene, Max comes out with army paint across his face, it represented quite clearly to the audience that he had reached a new level of extremism which was bordering on dangerous. The ending of the play is very haunting to watch, it is dark to witness what the ideas of extremism has done to the character the audience most warmed to at the beginning. He becomes unstable and unable to view with clarity that he has gone way too far. Having killed both his father and sister, the finale is Max ‘sitting alone in his newly created perfect world.’
I felt it was a strong piece exploring the dangers of extremism, however at times I felt that the playwright’s unsubtle dealing of the theme affected the acting. This is because at times it felt forced, for example when Emily Spetch (Eiva) had to give long-winded speeches on why her father’s actions were wrong, because she represented the voice of reason within the play. There were some definite first night nerves from Stuart Lydon (Stamper), which resulted in him stumbling over a few lines, however this is to be expected on opening night. For me, the acting of Michael Woodman, who played Max, stood out as he provided a haunting performance of a person gripped by the want for a better life and out of control. I felt the set was well designed however some of the comedy was quite grating and low brow, for example a scene in which the dad was stuck in a fishing net, and the play descended into a farce throughout the second half with some laboured jokes and unrealistic death scenes. All in all it was a decent performance however I feel it could have been a lot more subtle in communicating its main themes and ideas.
‘Bunnies’ is performing at the Bike Shed Theatre until the 19th November.