Cockroaches, cocaine and candy clouds: Little Y Theatre Company and whatshesaid’s RabbitHead is wildly different from what I initially expected. This bizarre performance is a successful blending of what would happen if a bejewelled Barbie snorted a line of cocaine.

Holly Garvey and Violette Ayad in RabbitHead
Holly Garvey and Violette Ayad in RabbitHead. Image by Simon Pynt

The play is a performative response to Barbara Baynton’s 1896 short story The Chosen Vessel. This gothic tale incorporated elements of the supernatural in a bush environment to explore the anxiety of an isolated young woman in danger. Director Ian Sinclair says he wanted the actors to consider what the fear of being trapped is like for 20-somethings in a modern context.

The devisers, performers and co-producers, Holly Garvey and Violette Ayad, play twisted, alternate universe versions of themselves. Holly demonstrates sheer commitment to the role through her exaggerated body language, while some of my favourite parts of the performance were Violette’s naive expressions and the quaint storybook-like voiceover narration by Humphrey Bower.

Through a surreal approach to dark humour, the play explores immersive social-media culture and what can happen when the relationship with your best friend turns sour. It becomes rapidly apparent as the story moves along that almost everything should be taken literally: Violette’s boyfriend is a cockroach and Holly begins to transform into a monster.

The set and costume design (Tessa Darcey) are sickly sweet and hugely appropriate for the play’s atmosphere. The stage is somewhere between a cloud and fairy floss, while the girls’ costumes are bubblegum-coloured and mock some of the more ridiculous modern fashions.

At first I found the random bursts into a dance routine to various pop-culture songs interruptive, but eventually it was clear they had their place. The movement (Tarryn Runkel) during these sequences was artfully coordinated, and the glitzy lighting design (Chris Donnelly) complemented this.

With elements of sugary surrealism and black comedy, RabbitHead is a mixture of syrupy dreams and unspeakable nightmares. While it was not at all what I expected, I walked out feeling pleasantly surprised at how effectively it delivered its intended message. Although not to everyone’s taste, it’s a witty commentary on modern culture and behaviours that’s well worth a look.

Tuesday 27 May – Saturday 14 June 2014

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