'Brer Rabbit and the Tarbaby' – Movingstage
Consistently adverse to the insipid and the cute, Movingstage bring young audiences the folkloric tales of bolshy Brer Rabbit this Easter using their customary long string, hand carved marionettes. Short but sweet, 'Brer Rabbit and the Tarbaby' tells the tale of three of the cunning bunny's encounters with his increasingly hungry neighbour, Brer Fox.
The set is simple; tiny in reality but at points managing to evoke the sense of wide open plains. It's populated, somewhat sparsely, by an odd but beautifully carved menagerie of animal puppets including a nodding tortoise, a skeletal buzzard, an obese cicada and a mysterious brown bear. Brer Rabbit himself has fantastic ears that swivel and point, and Brer Fox has a particularly expressive fur tail.
A highlight – and the source of the performance's warmth – is the pre-recorded narration by Rudolf Walker. His low, deep voice sparkles and twangs heartily through the script, and is punctuated with moody jazz. We see our trickster hero outwit the frustrated fox's traps again and again – first escaping from a hollow tree, then from a well and finally from the superglue-like grip of the strange tarbaby.
The play's momentum takes a while to build and it takes some time to be completely drawn into Brer Rabbit's world. The second half is more engaging than the first; the dynamic between the desperate fox and the tricksy rabbit now established, the performance begins to flow more easily.
The Brer Rabbit stories – characterised by the triumph of mischievousness over malice – have their roots in the indigenous communities of North and South America, Africa and Asia. They travelled over to the southern states of America with slaves, and were popularised in the US by Joel Chandler Harris in the 1880s. Encylopedia Britannica explains that Brer Rabbit's "adventures embody an idea considered to be a universal creation among oppressed peoples – that a small, weak, but ingenious force can overcome a larger, stronger, but dull-witted power. "
There's no doubt that it feels good to see a story unfurl where the weak wins out over the strong by wit alone. Definitely aimed at children rather than adults, this puppet production could be a refreshing antidote to the sickly spoils of the season. Perhaps you should forget chocolate bunnies this year and treat your kids to some Brer Rabbit instead.
'Brer Rabbit and the Tarbaby'