Coming to see Like Rabbits, I was unfamiliar with its source, the short story Lappin and Lapinova by Virginia Woolf. So without a reference point, this new work by Lost Dog and writer Lucy Kirkwood seems all the stranger, but no less affecting. While a fairly sparse interpretation, the simplicity leaves room for some biting comic moments and a quiet kind of tragedy.
The work tells the simple but shattering tale of a couple who fall in and out of love, through the generation and subsequent breakdown of their fantasy world. Updated from the original Edwardian setting of Woolf's story, the work takes place in modern day. There is a nod to its heritage through the costumes in the opening scene, with Ben Duke in a black velvet jacket and Ino Riga in virginal white, all puffy sleeves and frills. Apart from this it is rooted in the modern day, with the pair meeting in a nightclub scene that shows off Duke's theatrical abilities; while Riga coolly sits, cigarette in hand, Duke embarks on a sweetly awful seduction routine full of nervous machismo and awkward posing. It works anyway, and he is invited into Riga's world, which is certainly stranger than he anticipates.
Riga embarks on a seduction ritual of her own, appearing confident and knowing as she advances upon Duke with thrusting and whirling of arms. The reason for the prudish costume becomes apparent when she strips off and reveals her secret; a rabbit suit, wispy and dishevelled like she's been tangled in a hedgerow for a while. Thankfully the suit bears more resemblance to a Matthew Bourne Swan than the Easter Bunny, and emphasises the fragility of her small frame against Duke's tall and suited body. This unveiling of the rabbit persona is funny and poignant, highlighting the moment of falling in love, of letting someone see the whole person, or rather rabbit.
Duke gets a rabbit suit too and together they become King Lappin and Lappinova, making a fantasy world for themselves and physically becoming more and more like the rabbits Riga desperately wants them to be. They leap and paw and tumble round each other, in a joyful duet that is both sexual and somehow innocent, embodying the dizzy childishness of new love. Duke's choreography is gorgeously inventive, with scrambling lifts that allow Riga to completely inhabit her rabbit self.
While this invented world exists happily for a while, before long other distractions come creeping in; Duke recites a shopping list that brings the real world crashing back into view, and as Riga continues to be fully invested in this fantasy world (spending the majority of the latter half sitting determinedly on her haunches) Duke's character shows signs of wavering. He puts his shoes back on, they meet his mother while he tries to conceal Riga's rabbit paws, he complains that all the jumping hurts his legs. These small actions upset the balance of their relationship and they start to struggle; the earlier duet is reprised with subtle changes so that the lifts don't quite connect, and the earlier patterns don't get followed. The confusion and hurt in Riga's movement and expression is painful, as is the realisation that no one can really live in her world with her.
The sad inevitability to the breakdown of this relationship is enhanced by the simplicity of the work. This quiet retelling of Woolf's story stays in the mind and has an unexpectedly lasting emotional power.
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