5 February 2016

Rabbit Hole at the Hampstead Theatre covered a painful subject with sympathy and skill

Having been to Hampstead Theatre three times in fairly short succession it somehow dropped off my radar a little, few plays there caught my eye while plays at other theatres did. What brought me back was a Pulitzer Prize winning play with a good cast, notably Claire Skinner the mum in Outnumbered.

I also like the theatre as a facility and welcomed a reasonable excuse to go back there.

As always, I left the detailed planning until much nearer the time and I was delighted at how well that worked. I like to have somewhere to eat lined up for each regular theatre and had yet to find one for the Hampstead. I looked at what they themselves did and discovered that they do main meals, with two vegetarian options, in addition to the snacks that I knew they did.

They also did table bookings so I booked one for 6:15pm reasoning that even with slow service there would be no problem in finishing in time for the performance at 7:30pm. Then I looked at the map and discovered that I could walk to Swiss Cottage in 45 minutes from the Kings Cross office so that worked out spot-on too.

The table turned out to be on the lower level which I did not know existed. I was one of the first there but it quickly filled up and proved the necessity of booking. I've already booked for my next visit in March. I went for the mushroom risotto which did the job nicely. As did the cake, coffee and beer that I also had.

Hampstead Theater has a flexible configuration and this time the stage was thrust forward with seats on three side of the protruding section. I was in the front-row on the left side. only a couple of metres away from the sofa in the living part of the open-plan house.

The play opened with two sisters talking in the kitchen. They were very different characters, one was a steady housewife and the other, for example, had just had a small fight in a bar over a man.

It was a funny opening to a play that had several moments of humour, mostly from the irreverent attitude of the younger sister, but at its core this was a dark play.

The reason for that darkness emerged quickly, the older sister had lost a child. Her four year old son had run into the road following a dog and had been run over. The rest of the play was about the aftermath of that incident and how everybody responded to it.

Completing the main cast was the older sister's husband, Howie, and their mother, Kat. Howie was played by Tom Goodman-Hill who the Hampstead Theatre website tells me appeared in Mr Selfridge, which meant nothing to me. If they had mentioned that he also starred in Humans then I would have been far more interested!

The story moved along slowly, emotionally and painfully as any story that starts with the death of a child probably should. This sadness was intruded on by other people who brought in humour and some good news in to the mix. To complicate things further there was more sadness (another death) and somebody else seeking reconciliation. It was an emotional mess that we were asked to swim through.

Making it an rewarding effort to witness the pain was the excellent acting, especially from the two stars Claire Skinner and Tom Goodman-Hill. Claire looked to be in tears at the end because of the emotional turmoil she had just been through, and that is always a sign of good acting. The only minor  distraction was their American accents that took some getting used to simply because I had not expected them to sound like that.

Rabbit Hole demanded my attention throughout and repaid me for that with a story that gripped me with its depth and uncertainty.

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