It is always going to be hard to pull off a play with a minimalist set and only two actors that explores the relationship between a father and son following the father's divorce. But Brad Birch's thoughtful portrayal of human relationships is both honest and touching.
Birch is a young playwright whose work, over the past five years, has been performed at the Royal Court, the Arcola and the Lyric. At the start of his latest offering we meet a man (Peter Warnock), dressed in Bear Grylls style attire, accompanied by a stroppy young boy (Richard Linnell). They are embarking on a camping trip together.
It soon becomes clear that they are father and son, and that there is tension between them. The father does not seem to understand his son: he offers the eleven-year-old beer when he wants coke and cannot fathom why his boy does not enjoy hunting. After all, he did when he was young.
His son, like any angst-afflicted young man, seems to loathe his father, and openly declares, "I hate you".
Each scene is short, punctuated by music, and details an aspect of the tension in their relationship, ending on the last day when it is time to go home.
Birch looks at the effect of divorce on the children caught up in it. The shooting of rabbits can be seen as symbolic of the guilt and responsibility for a marriage falling apart. The blood is on whose hands?
Warnock's character touchingly tries to reach out to his own boy by doing what his father did with him.The father's attempts to reconnect with his son become an exploration of the father son relationship and a reminder that every father was once a child himself.
The play also touches on the feelings of inadequacy and insecurity of the characters. The father is often aggressive, but he is also vulnerable and child-like. Both Warnock and Linnell use the intimacy of the small theatre to capture their characters well, with Warnock's piercing eyes penetrating through to the audience.
If the play has any shortcoming it is that the set is very simply staged, and perhaps more could have been done to bring it to life.
Another weakness is that it explores the complex and difficult father son relationship in too comfortable a way - not really taking any risks or trying anything experimental. The scenes were, at times, repetitive, and it wasn't always easy to see where the play was heading.
Despite this, it is an enjoyable and well written play, and what it lacks in plot and set it makes up for with metaphor and description. Where The Shot Rabbits Lay is well worth going to see for its insightful exploration of the father-son relationship.
- Sarah Marsh