I think what I love most about the Unicorn Theatre is that it is a venue that never patronises or mollycoddles its audience. It makes shows for children and young people, yes, but they always assume a natural intelligence and understanding. This faith in its audiences is always repaid, and we are far more engaged in its work as a result.
The last thing I saw at the Unicorn was Pim & Theo a couple of weeks ago, a hugely impressive and ambitious piece of theatre and one of my 2014 highlights already. The Velveteen Rabbit is just as good, lending further weight to the increasingly watertight argument that the Unicorn is the place to be for theatre of the utmost quality, whatever your age.
The Velveteen Rabbit is a very touching and poignant story. The velveteen rabbit of the title belongs to The Boy (unnamed so audiences have a more neutral canvas to easily identify with, perhaps?). They do everything together: climb snow-swept mountains, escape from sinking ships and survive epic battles, before crawling into bed together of an evening and repeating it all again the next day. This loving and boisterous relationship begins to take its toll, and the rabbit starts to become a little threadbare and shabby: each stitch that is unintentionally unpicked is a scar, a memory of another playful adventure. When the boy contracts scarlet fever, his nurse takes drastic steps to ensure that he does not come into contact with the disease again. I won’t reveal any more because you really ought to go and see this. Needless to say, it hits you like a punch in the gut whilst cleverly remaining boldly understated.
Rather than lazily wallowing in nostalgia or sentimentalism, The Velveteen Rabbit reminds us of our childhood through the exploits the pair get up to. Scenes such as the pillow-fight, or even simply playing in the garden, are universal and transcend generational differences. You’ll be reminded of the shenanigans that you used to get up to – I was on a number of occasions.
Christian Roe gives a tender performance as the rabbit: he has an astute eye for detail and, suitably enough, flops about the space. A word also on his costume – done up in a turtle neck and jacket, we are able to project our own memories of childhood toys onto him. We are given free reign of imagination, and this is delightful. Paul Lloyd and Syrus Lowe provide quietly powerful turns, and Paul Moylan on piano injects further class into proceedings.
The real bunny brought on stage towards the end is a final, charming touch. The Velveteen Rabbit oozes quality.
This review is dedicated to my teddy Roodo – one day I’ll remember to rescue you from behind the radiator at Mum’s house.
The Velveteen Rabbit is playing at the Unicorn Theatre until 19 April. For more information and tickets, see the Unicorn Theatre website.