The Theatre Royal Haymarket has been brought back to 1941 in a Blitz takeover by The Haymarket Academy in their promenade performance Run Rabbit Run. With a cast of 26 young and talented actors and under the careful direction of Blayne George and Lizzy McBain, The Theatre Royal Haymarket throws open its nooks and crannies to discover the lives of those living in London during The Blitz.
With a similar approach to the BAC’s If I Ruled The World festival, The Haymarket Academy’s Run Rabbit Run see’s the audience handed a hand-drawn map with the tunnels and passages of the theatre to explore and follow the action of the performance. Our instructions are simple: explore, ask questions, and if you hear a whistle go off – head for safety in an air raid shelter.
One of the striking elements to Run Rabbit Run, is the sense of exploration around the theatre itself. Whilst we are carefully guided by Wardens and feel completely at ease to their guidance it is seeing the use of the various locations, from private VIP rooms, to bars and kiosks and even some of the boxes in the auditorium to hold performances within. It’s not often you get the chance to wander around a West End theatre to discover performances in the smallest of rooms by surprise.
There are numerous stories that run throughout the performance, that see some of the cast as children dreaming of their futures to becoming adults and facing the full extent of war. We hear of the struggles and inner turmoils that come with serving your country, “I don’t want this but I have a duty – to my king, for my country, but why?”. These questions might not be answered but they leave a sense of what it must have been like to have to fight not for yourself, but for your country. There are touching monologues given by some of the cast in intimate settings that give a deep resonance to Run Rabbit Run.
However it’s not all doom and gloom, as a trip to the ‘Dance Hall’ sees an insight into the spirit of the war, with show girls giving delightful renditions of 1940’s songs that warm your heart and make your feet tap. Coupled with the W.I offering tea and cake and some dancing from a young couple it gives a warming angle to the desolate times of the war.
If there is one thing that really makes Run Rabbit Run stand out, is the openess and commitment from the young cast. As you wander through the hallways and rooms of the theatre, you see the cast moving swiftly between their performance moments. They speak to you directly, asking if you’ve been to certain places yet, and offer guidance – but most of all they never break from character. I enjoyed a nice moment with a warden who asked me if I had my gas mask at home. I announced I had, which led to a conversation into how some fellows didn’t, and the repercussions they would face because of it. It wasn’t remotely forced dialogue but seemed almost natural after hearing the sirens go off that indeed some people would be dead if they were foolish without their masks.
Run Rabbit Run offers a glimpse into life in London during The Blitz, and the various characters that would have roamed the streets. There are black merchants selling goods for the price of a ration ticket, lovers meeting down ‘A Lovers Lane’ and secret coded messaged by the ‘Ministry Of..’ to be explored and interacted with. The performance ends with a rallying cry of the whole cast declaring “we shall fight” giving a real hearty British atmosphere and portrayal of fighting until the end.
The Haymarket Academy is a young peoples theatre company based at The Royal Haymarket Theatre in the West End. If you are aged between 14 and 18 with an interesting in performance, then take a look at the website to learn how to get involved. www.trh.co.uk/learning