The winner of a Fringe First award at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe, Jack Thorne’s Bunny is a gripping monologue: a thought-provoking, funny, poignant and exhilarating piece of writing.
Katie is a fairly ordinary teenager in Luton; she plays in the school orchestra and is applying for University. One day, walking home with her older boyfriend (“he’s good looking…and he’s black…not that that matters…”), she becomes involved in a street altercation which soon spirals into something dark and violent.
Thorne’s play tackles a number of contemporary issues, including racism, teenage sexuality and gang culture, and does so superbly. He has a real skill for getting under the skin of teenagers (he co-wrote one of the best Skins episodes, dealing with Emily and Naomi’s lesbian relationship) and Katie is a fantastic creation. She’s full of streetwise bravado and swagger, but it doesn’t take long for the scared little girl underneath to show through.
There are some understated undercurrents within the writing. Katie’s own racism, although buried, subtly surfaces when an Asian man who she fancies suddenly turns nasty and she describes him as “a greasy kebab shop owner”. There’s also plenty of funny lines to balance the increasing bleakness, such as the description of Katie’s overweight former friend, Sheridan: “She was named after a Sheffield Wednesday player…so no wonder she ate…”.
As Katie, Rosie Wyatt is quite brilliant. Last seen in Mike Bartlett’s outstanding Love Love Love, she is equally convincing here as an angst-ridden schoolgirl as she was as a disillusioned thirty-something, Wyatt perfectly encapsulates Katie’s confusion, anger and hurt. She also has a quite masterful sense of comic timing and deals well with both the play’s funnier lines and its grimmer moments. Taking on the mannerisms not just of Katie but of all the other characters in the play, and being the sole focus of the audience’s attention for an hour, this really is a remarkable performance.
It’s those darker moments that stick most vividly in the mind: Katie being sexually humiliated by an older man, and her repeated reassurances of “I know what I’m doing”, when it’s clear that the very opposite is true. Perhaps the most affecting moment is where Katie repeatedly chants “I don’t like thinking” before quietly admitting “…but I do. All the time”.
The back projection of Jenny Turner’s illustrations bring a visual dimension to what might otherwise be a static piece and, while some may quibble over the ambiguous ending – the play does seem to fizzle out a bit – it also successfully leaves the audience pondering Katie’s fate.
One of Thorne’s other credits is This Is England ’86, Shane Meadows’ brilliant TV programme about late 80s northern Britain. Bunny’s setting may be more modern, but it acts as a similarly effective treatise on what it is to be a British teenager and marks out both Thorne and Wyatt as two very exciting talents.