Brisbane’s own Kate Miller- Heidke brings a new brand of modern Opera to the stage at QPAC for a limited season of The Rabbits. With the musical score written by Miller- Heidke, and adapted by John Sheedy , it is a unique work that is visually spectacular, yet touching and a little dark.
The oratorio is the adaptation of the John Marsden book of the same name to bring to life the story of the colonisation of Australia. From the view -point of both sides, the Marsupials and The Rabbits it is beautifully orated by The Bird, who can only watch helpless as the Rabbits come to take over the land , changing it the way they want it.
Cutting down trees, building different homes and forcing the Marsupials to become like them the Rabbits quickly take over, displacing the lands original inhabitants. As they fight to take back their precious homes bewilderment turns to fear when the Rabbits come in their millions. The new world order annihilates what was in place eventually taking the children and destroying the future of the Marsupials.
As the Marsupials begin to understand the gravity of what is happening to the land they knew lamenting over the loss of the billabongs with long- legged birds and the smell of rain dripping from the gum trees, the Marsupials can only ask – “Who will save us from the Rabbits?”
With a somewhat minimalistic stage featuring abstract set design The Rabbits allows you to use a little of your imagination to fill in the details. The wonderful costuming brings to life the illustrations of Shaun Tan capturing the Marsupials and Rabbits, managing to stay true to the original vision. With a story that is devoid of any main characters the use of the orator via Kate Miller- Heidke’s bird is an intelligent way to story tell. She has an almost Mother Earth, kind of feel as she looks on helpless at the plight of the Marsupials.
Perhaps the most poignantly heart breaking moment of the performance is when the box kites come down and take away the children, the sorrow is almost palatable and all too real. Grieving for the loss of their babies, viewers can’t help but feel the pain and emotion of a history that is not that distant and sits in our collective memories as a nation.
Each member of the performance executing the roles with singing that is both entertaining and touching. With the Marsupials played by a cast of Indigenous Australians including Hollie Andrew, Jessica Hitchcock, Lisa Maza, Marcus Corowa and David Leha the plight of the Marsupials is that much more authentic. Even though the Rabbits are viewed in a negative light the performances tie together to make an outstanding depiction of the book. Kate Miller- Heidke manages to entice a few moments of awe with her incredible voice ringing out across the auditorium.
Whilst the story is uniquely Australian it could be told in any place where colonisation has occurred taking the lands from original inhabitants. It is a narrative that touches on the dark past of Australia, however as the final curtain closes there is a glimmer of hope that the future can be different.