Review: Lost Dog and Lucy Kirkwood - Like Rabbits - The Place

Performance: 10 & 11 October 2014
Reviewed by Graham Watts - Monday 13 October 2014

Ben Duke with  Ino Riga in 'Like Rabbits'. Photo: Zoe Manders

Performance reviewed: 10 October

Arriving for this show, I was instantly reminded of another evening at The Place, several years’ ago, when rushing to the theatre to see Sally Marie’s Dulce et Decorum, I was met by the choreographer herself, standing by the entrance, explaining that due to an injury to one of her dancers, there was no other choice but to cancel the performance. It was a reminder of how perilous is the risk of making modern dance without the luxurious resource of having covers. Having been the bearer of said bad news, she then indicated the tall, handsome guy standing next to her, saying “have you met Ben Duke?” Until then, I hadn’t.

Fast forward to last week and it was Duke’s turn to experience the problem of losing his (only) other dancer when Ino Riga’s last-minute illness took her out of the show she had premiered with Duke at the Brighton Festival back in May. Duke was spared the same apologetic duties that fell to Marie though, because he had two days to work in the studio prior to this performance in order to get Louise Tanoto up-to-speed as Riga’s replacement. A tough ask but I doubt if anyone in the audience unaware of this late substitution could have possibly imagined that Tanoto had learned the whole role so quickly.

The role in question was inspired by the character of Rosalind Thorburn in one of Virginia Woolf’s later short stories, Lappin and Lapinova (published in her final collection A Haunted House and Other Short Stories ). Newly married to Ernest but alienated by his Edwardian middle-class stiffness and lack of warmth, she elaborates a fantasy rabbit character (which she names Lappin) out of Ernest’s tendency to twitch his nose. He joins in with the game and she becomes Lapinova and they fall in love through these furry alter egos. Every day Lapinova imagines herself bounding over streams in their own secret forest and the sub-text in Woolf’s ultra-brief story makes it clear that the rabbit world is the only place where Ernest and Rosalind lose their inhibitions and become intimate. But as this secret world becomes more essential to Rosalind’s everyday survival, Ernest’s interest progressively subsides until one day, when Rosalind tells him that she is having trouble finding Lapinova, he says simply – while unsympathetically reading the news – that she has been “caught in a trap, killed”. The next and final line of the story is simply: ‘So that was the end of that marriage’.

Working with Duke (co-founder of Lost Dog), Lucy Kirkwood – the award-winning author of Chimerica – has created a 50-minute loose interpretation of Lappin and Lapinova in dance theatre, through a pleasing blend of spoken text, mime and movement. Sometimes such enterprises will lead the dance into simply becoming becalmed passages that link the more important written text but to the great credit of the Kirkwood/Duke partnership, this is not the case in Like Rabbits. Speech is limited to a few key passages of text, which enhance the dance theatre, rather than dominate it. Having said this, both dancers are eminently comfortable with their lines and Duke, in particular, has a neat sense of comic timing in his mix of vocal and physical humour.

The title of the piece seems to play up – by the obvious inference of its missing verb – the sexual side of Lappin and Lapinova (which Woolf herself merely hints at) and if we were in any doubt about that, the message is quickly reinforced by the overt lyrics of Mary and The Boy’s song Fuck me, presented as the second contribution in an eclectic soundtrack. Rosalind begins the piece demurely dressed in an assortment of white and light clothing, as if she may have just been a guest at a christening, which is soon peeled off to reveal a sheer, nylon rabbit suit with a hairy trunk section (vaguely reminiscent of the swan costumes in Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake). Tanoto presents Ernest (Duke) with a smart suit carrier containing his own identical rabbit costume, which he also dons. I liked the imagery of Rosalind carrying “Lapinova” as her own second skin, while Ernest has to be presented with his in a carrier that might easily represent the formal side to his life as a minor civil servant (or was he a minor something in the city?). Wearing their rabbit suits the pair conjoins in some suitably erotic courtship through a duet of seething intensity and acrobatic interactions, while real life hovers ominously nearby as their human daywear sits on coat stands observing proceedings. As Rosalind’s behaviour grows increasingly feral, cottontail and “harey” (Lapinova was actually invented by Ernest as a small white hare), it is Ernest of course who discards the veneer of the rabbit suit first. ‘So that was the end of that marriage’.

I studied Virginia Woolf’s short stories a lifetime ago and for capturing the essence of her Lappin and Lapinova so comprehensively without resorting to represent it in any linear sense whatsoever, I must give fulsome credit to Kirkwood and Duke as creators (not forgetting Chris Tandy and Ino Riga who helped them devise the project); to Duke and Tanoto as charismatic performers; and to designer Holly Waddington (with Susanna Peretz) for the most effective but unimaginable rabbit suits.

And that should have been it. But as Like Rabbits finished, there was a quick announcement that a 15 minute trailer for Lost Dog’s next work would be shown after a brief interval. About 25% of the audience failed to return (including so far as could be seen, every other critic) . Instead of a film, we were treated to a solo monologue by Duke, explaining in fine (and very funny) detail his ideas for a work based on John Milton’s epic poem, Paradise Lost. It confirmed – if any confirmation were needed – Duke’s credentials as both a wit and a fine comic actor, reminding me in so many ways in his diffident, slightly halting explanations, of Wendy Houstoun, whom I had the pleasure of seeing on this same stage, just three days’ previously.

I’m not sure of the purpose in springing this surprise performance but it was a live action equivalent of the phenomenon of ‘Easter Eggs’ appearing as intentional hidden messages in a computer program, video game or tucked away in the menu of a DVD. It was an altogether charming way to end a very pleasant and thought-provoking evening’s entertainment – and a shame that so many missed out on it. But, then again, I can never find the Easter Eggs on a DVD

Photo: Ben Duke with Ino Riga in Like Rabbits by Zoe Manders

Graham Watts writes for, Dance Tabs, Dancing Times and other magazines and websites in Europe, Japan and the USA. He is Chairman of the Dance Section of the Critics’ Circle and the National Dance Awards in the UK.

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