Justly returning to the Unicorn for its second run, The Velveteen Rabbit masterfully tells Margery Williams’s much-loved story of friendship and belonging. Full of giggles, imagination and love, the production’s second turn is sure to be a success.
At the heart of this tale is a toy rabbit (Christian Roe); stuffed with sawdust and with long whiskers, this rabbit longs for the day he becomes real. Being real, you see, is not about having a beating heart or a brain; it’s about being made real by the child who loves you. And the rabbit achieves this through his companion, a young boy delightfully played by Ashley Byam.
As with all timeless children’s tales, the sentiment behind their relationship reaches beyond its context to everyday humanity. Realness, that is when most of your hair is loved off, is a warm testimony to true companionship. This makes for a heartwarming and visually creative production, particularly seeing as the rabbit and young boy play together, creating magical worlds in the young boy’s bedroom. The older members of the audience look on in awe as under Wilkie Branson’s choreography, we are transported back to that wondrous feeling of possibility that comes with playtime. The rabbit and young boy dance through their imagination as they make a ship from a bed frame, an elephant from a blanket.
Guiding this dance is pianist Tarek Merchant, who creates a soft but glorious backdrop fitting of creativity. This is beautifully assisted by lighting designer David W Kidd’s careful consideration of primary colours; creating dreamlike worlds full of wonder and possibility. Before the show, I’d half expected an actor dressed in full rabbit gear to enter the stage, but not even rabbit ears enter James Buttons’s design. Instead, Roe’s animated gestures and humbled voice ask the audience to employ their own childhood imagination, and you hardly feel you are watching an actor at all.
Don’t be put off by thinking you may higher the average audience age significantly, The Velveteen Rabbit beautifully reminds all ages how precious it is to explore the world with a companion. Undoubtedly one of the most charming and magical productions you’ll see for a while.
The Velveteen Rabbit is playing at Unicorn Theatre until 26 April. For tickets and more information, see the Unicorn Theatre website.