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Why “Harvey” isn’t revived more often

May 6, 2015

It was lovely to see this play about an invisible rabbit back in the West End for that short season, but I’ve wondered why it isn’t seen more often. Having thought about it, the reasons are obvious. It really is down to casting the title character.

For a start, there simply are not that many 6ft plus invisible rabbits in Spotlight’s casting directory. 2ft visible ones, yes – nearly as many as 5ft 3 slim musical theatre belting ladies; but once past the height / viewable thing, not so good.

Of course, when the play was first staged, there were far fewer casting problems. After the war, many invisible rabbits were of course discharged from active service in the spy-corps. Having seen how Thumper became a big star in “Bambi,” they took advantage of veteran re-training programmes in the USA to take drama courses. In the UK too, the lines for auditions at RADA were legendary, and carrot-peddlers became wealthy catering to the queues.

These days, of course, there are so many more opportunities for invisible rabbits, that few wish to work on stage every night when they could be making a fortune at “Harry Potter” parties with just a cheap cloak as a prop.

Further, drama training has changed, with the “triple threat” – those able to act, dance and sing, most in demand. While two out of three isn’t bad, let’s face it, even the most tepsichorially gifted rabbit admits a problem getting close enough to dance “cheek to cheek” when toe-to-toe. Also, a single leap and they are clean over their dancing partner.

So, with so few professionals available for the part, producers have two options. They can either lie, and pretend that “Edward Plinge” (the name that goes into theatre programmes if a cast member wishes to remain anonymous / doesn’t exist) is playing the rabbit… or they have to pay a considerable premium for a full qualified invisible thespian. Which means ensuring the show is a hit, with a full house every night.

It is at the theatre the second problem is noticeable. Well, quite a few, actually.

The main issue is that rabbits obviously have large families – all loyal to their performing relative, and buying massive groups of tickets. The invisibility gene is dominant, they height one recessive in rabbits, so it means hoards are perched on the tops of the seats, rather than folding them down. It’s the only way many can see. What that means, sadly is that the human audience perceive theatres as less than full – and spread rumours that the show’s a failure.

Worse, rabbit paws are soft, so applause are soundless – nobody knows they are there. Even a “standing ovation” won’t be seen (and it’s risky for rabbits to attempt to bounce to thier feet, given the low overhanging circles if launching too quickly).

Finally, of course, sales of refreshments are lower than usual. Can’t sell carrots as they are too noisy to eat, lettuce doesn’t keep and nobody makes a decent hay flavoured ice-cream.

So, it’s a case of catching revivals while you can, and making the star feel special by asking for a “pawtograph” after. Hopefully, if he stays “in the business” this charming play will be seen more often once again.

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