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THEATRE: 21 OCTOBER 2015

By TONI CARROLL

A Rabbit for Kim Jong-Il, by Ki Brookman | Directed by Lee Lewis

Griffin Theatre Company | SBW Stables Theatre, Darlinghurst, Sydney | Until 21 November

After one hour and forty minutes without interval, The Guest had a pressing call of nature to answer. I stood just outside the theatre as I waited, and saw that my own confusion was reflected on the faces of the patrons as they spilled out onto the street. The snippets of overheard conversation were telling.

 “Well, it’s obviously about … capitalism … or something.”

“Um, the rabbit was a metaphor for … for … for the innocence of ... of … something.”

The Guest, when she surfaced, was more positive: “Odd but interesting.”

A Rabbit for Kim Jong-Il is a fictionalised story of a real-life incident. Supposedly, the Supreme Leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in 2006 took a special interest in the deliciously plump rabbits of German truck-driver-cum-rabbit-breeder Johann. He was reportedly desperate to get his hands on these rabbits as breeding stock for a program to help alleviate his country’s famine.

In Kit Brookman’s account, the Dear Leader’s offer of €100,000 is eventually accepted by a torn Johann, who is particularly attached to his prized Felix. Playwright and actor Brookman also plays the rabbit, Felix. Yes, you read that right. His almost Christ-like portrayal of the 25kg Felix is a keystone to the themes of forgiveness and betrayal, greed and regret.

Johann immediately regrets allowing his bunnies to go with the righteously smarmy Mr Chung (meticulously played by Kaeng Chan), and ends up in North Korea with his spirited neighbour Sophie (Kate Box) on a mission of rescue and restitution.

What follows is a surreal mosh of reality, fable, espionage and bestiality that never really coalesces into a clear message. This is certainly not for want of trying. Director Lee Lewis sets a cracking pace for the actors who all play their characters to the hilt, from Steve Rodgers’ broadly Aussie battler Johann and Box’s hilariously over-the-top Sophie, to Meme Thorne’s chillingly restrained obsessive, Park Chun-Hei.

Designer Elizabeth Gadsby has done a great job transforming The Stables’ challenging performance space into a stylised farm, airport, hotel room, hutch, cell and more.

But to what end, I still ask myself. I’m still not sure what we were meant to take from the play. I feel as though Brookman was aiming for some message but it remains frustratingly just outside of my reach, as it seemed to be for other audience members, too. The closest I can get is a single quote from this “odd but interesting” play, a quote that may just be a metaphor for the plight of the North Korean people:

“Rabbits don’t talk Mr Wertheim. They keep their stupid mouths shut or they get whacked on the head with a shovel … Learn to be a rabbit.”