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Review – The Rabbits: grabs at the heart

Above: The Rabbits and Marsupials meet. Right Robert Mitchell as The Captain.

Deanne Scott's after-party shots follow the review.

The Rabbits

Based on the book by John Marsden, illustrated by Shaun Tan

Composed by Kate Miller-Heidke

Libretto by Lally Katz

Musical arrangements and additional music by Iain Grandage.

Adapted by John Sheedy

Opera Australia and QPAC presentation

Playhouse Theatre

Queensland Performing Arts Centre

South Bank


Season: Until March 20. Duration 60 minutes with no interval. Bookings: or 136 246

There is something that grabs at the heart in The Rabbits.

Kate Miller-Heidke’s score rocked into classic and jazz, swing and rock and even pop played brilliantly by a five piece band and the clever story of the Australian invasion of the rabbits and the meeting with gentle marsupials ran deep and true.

I loved it when the band came to the front of the stage and played “oompah music” to a rousing chorus from the rabbits.

Lally Katz’s words fit the music perfectly and never once got in the way of the action or the story.

My first reaction to this beautifully created short opera was “Secret River with music”. It has similar power in a totally different way and, with the humanised animals, told the story of Australia’s European beginning, it was somehow more poignant.

Seeing a huddled group of marsupials being given rabbit ears by the invaders and told that one day they would be like them and become rabbits was somehow more of a hollow promise and the ripping of joeys from pouches even more cruel that the true stolen generation.

It brought the whole situation down to a primeval level.

The marsupials grazed happily under the trilling of the bird; the rabbits arrived - A Scientist, a Society Rabbit, A Convict and two ship’s crewmen. The performers, from Barking Gecko Theatre Company and Opera Australia, were all dressed in bulky costumes that indicated character

They must have been murder to walk around in yet alone sing. But sing they did, not just with operatic voices, but with character voices too. Kanen Breen, a tenor switched into counter-tenor mode many times to create the mad scientist.

And the groups sang solo, duets, fabulous quartets and in chorus too. The sound was a joy to the ear. This was modern opera that matched the classics for intensity and music.

When the rabbits arrived on shore, with much heaving and vomiting (from sea sickness and drunkenness) there was a friendly, if apprehensive first meeting but as the rabbits began to breed, build houses, dig up the land and cut down trees the marsupials became worried and of course before long there was a battle that the gentle animals could not win against the rapacious rabbits.

The set and the strange, spooky costumes of all the characters came from the Opera Australia workshop and helped create a fearful innocence and foreboding for both parties.

At the top of the tree in the story is the narrator, an untouchable bird sung by Kate Miller-Heidke. This was the first time I had seen her perform live and her voice was staggeringly beautiful as she trilled and sang and did some amazing vocal gymnastics, her voice sometime soared in into the stratosphere with such power that, with the sound enhancement, almost burst the eardrums.

But for all its modernity it was a true operatic experience.

It is a tribute to the cast too when, about half way through someone hit the wrong button; the fire alarm came on and the fire curtain dropped down over the performers, who vainly tried to carry on with the show. Luckily it was a false alarm and when the action resumed there was a resounding cheer from the audience – and that grew into a well-deserved standing ovation at the end.

I would also like to comment on the program, which is one of the most informative and attractive productions I have seen in a long time.

Kate Miller-Heidke chats with Eric Scott.

Designer Leigh Buchannan with Chelsea Jewell who is wearing one of his creations.

Band pianist Isaac Hayward and Eric Scott. Isaac also played the 'cello and piano accordian with ther band.

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