First of all, confession time.
I don’t know the story. I never read the book. I never saw the film. All I knew about Watership Down was Rabbits, Cartoon, Blood, Art Garfunkel and…. nope, that’s it. That either makes me the worst person or the best person to review a stage adaptation of the book. You decide.
This play by Rona Munro, adapted from Richard Adams’ book follows a group of wild rabbits in their quest for a safe home, followed by their quest to get some lady rabbits (does) and other rabbits to join them and make some baby rabbits (kittens – one for the pub quizzers there).
Anthropomorphising is the bestowing of human traits and/or characteristics to animals or inanimate objects. Well, whatever the equivalent of bestowing rabbit traits onto humans is, well, that is what is needed here. (Leporisation maybe?) Redlynch Players do that really well, without overdoing the mannerisms.
The story begins with a spot of narration to accompany the sub tale of an elderly rabbit, El-ahrairah (Ron Perry) being summoned to the next life by what is the rabbit equivalent of our own “Grim Reaper” – The Rabbit of Inle (Desmond Longfield). The narration is nicely delivered by one of our main protagonists, Blackberry, one of the stars of the evening, for me, being Debbie Everett.
Blackgberry is joined by Hazel (a great performance from Ali Silver), Fiver (nice “going crazy” stuff from Graham Simpson) and Bigwig (Mark Everett, who really stood out in creating the bunny traits and in his characterisation of the feisty Bigwig). They are occasionally joined by Holly, nicely played by Mark Newman.
When our leporine heroes get to Watership Down, they look to a near warren, Efrafa, to get some ladies and bucks to come and join them in paradise. However, Efrafa is controlled by the evil General Woundwort (Mark Newman again, doubling up and doing really well with all the evilness required) who is ably assisted by Andrew Harrison-King as Campion.
They are joined by Kehaar – a black headed gull who both menaces and befriends them. Sarah Newman as Kehaar is a burst of energy from the get-go, funny, serious, excellent characterisation and a joy to watch all the time she is on, whether gliding, flapping, attacking or eating fish. For me, she is the star of the evening.
Staging this play requires quite a large cast, which Redlynch get around nicely in the small space by augmenting the live action performances with some occasionally intertwined voice-over work. This works nicely and, at times, makes things quite atmospheric. This could prove a headache for the sound guy (John Benson) but he times the audio really nicely over the action.
The director, Lloyd Perry, has paced this really well. The many scene changes need to be slick, and they are. Redlynch Players are to be applauded for their choice of play here. It is adventurous, inventive, imaginative and a refreshing change from the standard Am Dram staples we are fed with sometimes. I heartily recommend this as an evening of interesting and enthralling story telling.
Further performances – Friday November 30th and Saturday December 1st at 7:30 with a matinee at 2pm on the Saturday.