REVIEW: Melbourne Festival Presents THE RABBITS

Powerful and poignant family opera

By Rachel Holker

Based on the acclaimed picture book by John Marsden and Shaun Tan, and the winner of several Helpmann Awards, The Rabbits (adapted and directed by John Sheedy) comes with high expectations and does not disappoint. An unsubtle commentary on the colonisation of Australia and the consequences for the people and the environment, this production for Melbourne Festival 2015 is no pantomime for the kids.

The Rabbits

The story remains very close to the original text, with the addition of Bird (Kate Miller-Heidke) as a narrator of sorts, calling on high various warnings and dire predictions yet pointlessly declaring her inability to assist with the Marsupials plight as the Rabbits invade.

The Rabbits is masterpiece of staging and design. Tan’s illustrations are utilised sparingly, yet effectively to portray the land of the Marsupials and the encroaching impact of the Rabbits. The costumes (Gabriela Tylesova) cross the line into puppetry and are so emotionally effective (the Marsupials in particular are gorgeously haunting) that the performers’ own faces become superfluous.

Miller-Heidke’s score is very good and, the small orchestra on stage was a delight – I would have liked to see even more of their interactions with the other players. All the performances were strong, especially the Marsupials Hollie Andrew, Jessica Hitchcock and Lisa Maza who brought genuine grief to some heartrending scenes.

The libretto is a touch uneven and jarring at points, particularly where it tries to play to the adults in the audience. This was not necessary and detracted from the story rather than lightening the mood as was the intent. However where the words and music combine at key emotional points is where The Rabbits excels.

I hope The Rabbits represents the beginning of a trend in children’s productions that speak up rather than down to their audience.

Tickets to The Rabbits, produced by Opera Australia and Barking Gecko Theatre Company, in Melbourne are sold out.
Sydney performances:14-24 January, Roslyn Packer Theatre, $47-$98

Bookings: https://opera.org.au/whatson/events/detail?prodid=113130

By Abbey age 11.

I really liked The Rabbits, but it was really sad at some parts. The costumes were amazing and the way they used their headdresses’ mouths when the Rabbits were drinking tea, instead of their own, was really cool. The use of props was awesome with some reaching the top of the stage such as the boat.

The story was told extremely well with one of the Marsupials from the book replaced by a narrating bird and I thought that was effective. The interpretation of the book was really good for the book has no dialogue, but the show does. The character’s speeches were made up but what they said still made sense to the story. The operatic side was amazing but loud.

I wouldn’t recommend this for young kids because it is so sad and emotional.

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