Rabbit Hole, Hampstead Theatre, review: ‘Quietly devastating’

RAbbit hole at Hampstead theatre

RAbbit hole at Hampstead theatre - Credit: Archant

This subtle study of grief is still a tearjerker, but could do with more depth, says Bridget Galton.

David Lindsay Abaire’s Good People, a hit at Hampstead in 2014, was written after this Pulitzer Prize winning slice of realism and it shows.

If the latter articulated universal observations about class and money via the authentic voice of its struggling working class heroine, Rabbit Hole focuses on the private despair of a suburban family experiencing the kind of terrible loss few of us will hopefully know.

Instead of finding solace in each other Howie and Becca are grieving separately and very differently. He attends a counselling group and treasures mementoes of their young son. She’s packing away his clothes, paintings and robot bedspread, selling the house and evicting the family dog the boy was chasing when he was knocked down.

Lindsay Abaire’s spare, acutely observed dialogue unsentimentally charts their quiet desperation as they slowly continue with rituals of birthdays, pregnancies and familiar family tensions.

So little happens, it’s almost dull, but while Ed Hall’s restrained direction keeps the lid on what could be a manipulative tearjerker, you’ll still be reaching for the hanky.

Claire Skinner’s contained, clench-jawed Becca only finally lets go in front of Jason the guilt-stricken searingly honest young man who was driving the car (an impressive debut by Sean Delaney) and the affable Howie (Tom Goodman-Hill) gets progressively angrier as the play wears on.

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There are echoes of Good People in Becca’s working class family, chaotic Izzy and boozy mum Nat (Penny Downie) “the Kennedys weren’t cursed, they were just rich people who did stupid things.”

Perhaps conveniently Nat’s lost a son under very different circumstances and is nervous of her educated middle class daughter. But the moment when Becca acknowledges their shared pain is quietly devastating. It’s a class act all round yet lacking the breadth and depth that made Abaire’s later play so memorable.

Rating: 3/5 stars