Kebab shops, Luton, tampons up clarinets, and gritty sexual misadventures: the four images that fairly sum up Jack Thorne’s (Skins, Shameless) Bunny.
Winner of 2010 First Fringe Award, Fabricate theatre takes a stab at the one-woman show, starring Catherine Lamb as the spirited schoolgirl. The hour-long piece, despite a lively beginning, fails to enthrall.
The stage, designed by Lucy Weller, is effective: a dilapidated girl’s bedroom which hovers, just like the inhabitant, between childhood and adulthood. The shabbiness of the lilac wallpaper, clouds, and an old teddy bear harks the end of childhood; yet the emptiness points to no definable replacement.
The debris of infancy have been pushed to the periphery to make space for the blooming, unbridled, and quite gross energies of adolescence. That awkward phase, which Bunny at least attempts to speak for, where the grace of adulthood has not yet been reached, and the charms of childhood have most definitely departed.
Bunny tells the story of a particularly hot day in the summer, when her new, older boyfriend Abe, gets into a fight with a young northern boy on his bike. This precipitates the recruitment of some of Abe’s factory friends, who go on a hunt for this boy to punish him. During the car journey through the depressing streets of Luton, Bunny falls for Asif, the driver, and the general ring leader. They share eye contact, she presses against him and follows him to a butcher shop; he flirts with her, asks her boyfriend to buy him chicken, and then sexually humiliates her.
She offers herself up, driven by a combination of sexual desire, potential naivety, and probably low self-esteem. To add to the already chaotic narrative, which doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense, Bunny offers up various confessionals to the audience – the time she scratched ‘cunt’ onto her father’s car – as well as some stand-up jokes (the infinite pleasure she finds in watching her fat friend eat, being one).
Catherine Lamb, with much girl-next-door charm, succeeded in many ways in her portrayal of Bunny. She brought must spirit and gusto to the character, playing out the various parts of the story in an intensely physical way, which gave great immediacy to the character. Lamb flirted and performed for the audience, which worked in representing the performative quality of this phase in adolescence – where there is an increasing awareness of sexual power but an inability to control it, or understand its implications.
The coquettishness, sexual confidence, and energy of Lamb, whilst in some ways effective, at other times stopped the work from gaining any great depth. The intensity of the first two thirds meant there was no build up towards the climax (they find the boy) and left me desensitised in the face of her humiliation. I felt exhausted by the end and vaguely overwhelmed.
The confidence of her performance also felt at odds with the writing. In the text, she is presented as friendless, awkward, and partial to revenge pranks. But Lamb performed her as outgoing, flirtatious, and energetic. To be fair to the actress, Thorne‘s writing never allows a realistic young female to emerge. With all the coquetry and intense sexuality, the true delicacies and emotional depth of girls of that age never once allows to surface.
It all felt really cheap. Whether it be the writing, or Lamb, the work never really got past a performative school girl: misguided, naïve, and manipulative. Whilst this works for a few laughs, and unwanted flashbacks, it fails to transcend stereotypes and fails to do justice to the subtleties and richness of the female adolescent experience.
Bunny is playing at White Bear Theatre until 25 March.
Photo by Dashti Jahfar