Photo by: John Green


The Rabbits is an Australian opera adapted from a picture book that is anything but child’s play.

The original story was written by John Marsden, who penned the Tomorrow series, and was illustrated by Shaun Tan (The Lost Thing). It’s an allegorical tale that examines the colonisation of Australia with the titular characters playing the invading British settlers, and a group of native marsupials representing the Aboriginal people and their subsequent plight.

The original book is less than 300 words long but it’s a powerful story. For the live setting this has been expanded with the addition of a new character, a narrator called Bird, performed by the show’s composer – the classically trained soprano and pop singer, Kate Miller-Heidke. Acclaimed playwright Lally Katz provides the libretto and Iain Grandage offers the superb musical arrangements.

The show has already won several Helpmann Awards and in some ways it’s easy to see why, because the story is an emotionally poignant one and a sad reflection on our nation’s history. It depicts the invasion, colonisation and the Stolen Generation, but does end with a glimmer of hope. That said, it is not perfect, and there are some scenes that fall a little flat or feel a little long and drawn out (and the show itself only goes for one hour).

The artists do an excellent job performing the material. The marsupials are played by Hollie Andrew, Jessica Hitchcock, Marcus Corowa and David Leha – led ably by Lisa Maza – and prove incredibly charming and emotive. The rabbits (Kanen Breen, Nicholas Jones, Christopher Hillier, Simon Meadows and Robert Mitchell), on the other hand, are more like pantomime villains and everything is delivered in a flamboyant and over-the-top manner. This actually works in this strange environment where the show is already a hybrid of opera and musical theatre and the soundtrack is a mash-up of pop ballads and experimental and classical styles.

The Rabbits is a dark and ambitious piece that doesn’t pander to the audience. It tells a tragic and uncomfortable chapter in our history and stays true to the essence of the book. This is particularly the case in the rendering of the set and costumes by designer, Gabriela Tylesova. The Rabbits is one nuanced and atmospheric tale that commands the viewer to sit up and listen, without leading them down a rabbit warren.


Originally published on 19 January 2016 at the following website:

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