First staged in 2014, this charming adaptation of Margery Williams’ beloved 1922 novel The Velveteen Rabbit has been all the way to New York and back again, and now makes its, I believe, third visit to the Unicorn Theatre, where its lovely life began three years ago. The show’s director Purni Morell has recently announced her resignation from the same theatre, and The Velveteen Rabbit is a great reminder, if anyone was in any doubt, of what gigantic shoes her successor will have to fill.
It’s a show that speaks to Morell’s legacy as Unicorn AD, characteristically combining a refusal to patronise young audiences with heaps of theatrical magic. Light on plot but full of heart, it makes for a gentle evening that’s able to speak, like all the best kids’ shows, to the child in adult audience members as well as the grown-ups in children; grown-ups that understand things change and grow, and we cannot keep all our toys forever.
Not that any of that is dwelt on unnecessarily. For the most part, The Velveteen Rabbit is a good excuse to charm and beguile audiences with a rightly well-loved tale, staged with simple charm by Morell and performed winningly by its small cast, especially Christian Roe, understatedly sweet as the titular toy rabbit who longs to be made ‘real’ by a child’s love. Though I didn’t really see the need for the all-male cast (sorry), the performances are uniformly strong, and having adult men play the boy and his toy rabbit allows Morell to casually portray touch and affection between men – which feels important to do in front of an audience of young boys, things being as they are.
Press night was a signed performance, which I note only because it was handled with such simple care, with the signing performer given an appropriate costume and treated as equal to, the same as, the other performers. The little bit of time taken here to integrate BSL into the show, the care with which it was made to feel an inextricable part, was such a small thing and so worth it, which I suppose felt fitting in a show about the power and potential of small things.
In my late twenties and not planning to have kids any time soon, I watch a show like this with – well actually with a friend who I apologised to in advance for how much I would cry, and I did cry, a lot (sorry) – but anyway. I watch any show like this with two ghosts*: the ghost of my younger self, whose tiny rabbit-loving heart would have exploded, and the spectral presence, the potential of children I will one day bring to shows like this. I mean, two sets of my friends have had babies this year. Three times revived? Not enough. You’ll have to keep bringing it back ’til I can drag a little mate along.
Because in all its simple charm, The Velveteen Rabbit is a show about the only two kinds of magic I’ve ever really experienced – the magic and intensity of childhood, which can make the impossible seem possible, and of – sorry, but – theatre. I know! Allow it, it’s nearly Christmas, ish – and it’s simple stage magic, for the most part, that makes this show tick. What a joy to remember the delight it can bring a room full of people when done right. A surefire festive treat for kids and women in their 20s who cry in public too much, The Velveteen Rabbit is a show with heart and soul and moments of pure, dizzying wonder.
The Velveteen Rabbit is on until 31 December 2017 at the Unicorn Theatre. Click here for more details.
*Okay, three ghosts, whatever, shout-out to my much-missed much-loved late lamented rabbit, Bobby. Who loves ya Bobby.