Saturday, 20 January 2018

Clouds over Luton… Bunny, Tristan Bates Theatre

“I don’t like thinking, I don’t like thinking…but I do it all the time.”

Catherine Lamb hits us with everything she’s got for a well over an hour, giving us a whirlwind of powerful, teenage narrative including fighting, a car chase, school disco and sexual power play. She brings Jack Thorne's meticulous prose to life: 70 minutes of dialogue, one woman, three clouds and a battered chair… it is an amazing performance you are consumed by her energy and emotive force and you are left reeling by a cliff-hanger ending I won’t reveal.

Bunny tells the story of Katie, 18-year old school girl, bright enough to get A’s in her GCSEs and in her AS “ass-levels” and the first in her family to get a place in university. Her parents read The Guardian and she is almost at Grade Five on the clarinet. She’s what we used to call working class but her future awaits even though she’s by no means sure of it.

Katie doesn’t quite fit in with the fast set at school, all of the girls who came to her 18th decided to leave on cue at 10.30 as some kind of statement… she’s too off-beat to really hold down a position in their ranks and had only one real friend and overweight girl she was ashamed of but who liked and understood her.

Katie’s boyfriend – she’s ambivalent on his status – is a 24-yeard old black guy called Abe who even now was a shock to her parents and no doubt many others. He works in a factory and seems distinctly un-invested in Katie’s opinions and personality. The couple meet after her day at school and Abe gets into a fight with an Asian boy who tries to nick his ice cream.

Catherine Lamb, photograph Michael Lindall
Katie doesn’t like fights and whilst she’s undoubtedly thrilled by the frisson of male combat, she’s not giving them high marks for style. The boy gets a choke-hold on Abe and the fight fizzles out as he heads off on his bike.

Two of Abe’s workmates have seen the scuffle, a man called Jake and the commanding figure of Asif, a man they all defer to and who seems to take an interest in Katie from the start. Asif is a compelling character as drawn by Catherine/Katie: he drives a fast car, takes command and plays subtle games with all of those around him.

He decides that they must pursue the boy – who spat at Abe to start the quarrel – and to meet out justice. They set off in his car playing tag with the boy as he cycles down passageways but can’t get far enough away. He gets cornered and manages to give the gang a slip as a young boy distracts them… Asif then puts pressure on the boy to let them know his name and where he lives… it’s uncomfortable even in the re-telling and we’re lost in Catherine Lamb’s story telling feeling the fear and threat.

The pack head off to Luton’s Bury Park and after Asif finds out where the boy lives they sit outside in his car eating a kebab. Asif plays all those around him including Katie who, childlike, responds to his attentions as she would anyone who gave her the compliment of simply being interested. We’re appalled that she is in this situation, “I know what I’m doing…” but she really does not.

The tension mounts as they go inside the boy’s house to sit and wait with his unsuspecting mother… Katie must decide who’s side she is on, Asif’s or her own: it’s a difficult choice to make and, given that she is telling the story, one we presume she has already made?

A clouded future? Catherine Lamb, photograph Michael Lindall
Throughout the play there are cut-aways to the more introspective world before Katie cuts back to her story. It’s a very well-constructed narrative that never loses momentum even in these moments and Lucy Curtis is to be congratulated on her direction. I also loved the minimalist set with three clouds changing colour with Katie's mood.

Catherine Lamb is so cohesive and committed to the performance that you believe her every word. In the end we’re left hanging on to each sentence… hoping for the best and recognising the terrible ease with which young lives can turn.

“I think life can be basically divided into two things: suspense and surprise. I prefer surprise to suspense. But that’s basically because I feel suspense all the time.”

Bunny is a production of Fabricate Theatre Company and runs at the Tristan Bates Theatre until 27th January – so yourself a favour  and grab a ticket whilst you can!

IThankYouTheatre Rating: ***** Breathless.

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