Kit Brookman’s A Rabbit for Kim Jong-Il is a comedic damnation of both capitalism and socialism. The two ideologies are fighting over a rabbit. The huge, fluffy rabbit named Felix is Brookman himself, and he's been dressed in the softest downy pullover and long johns by designer Elizabeth Gadsby. Like Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s The Physicists, A Rabbit for Kim Jong-Il uses a drama between individual characters to personify and thereby satirise capitalism and socialism, rendering world politics ridiculous. Admittedly Brookman’s satire today has less kick than Dürrenmatt’s would have had during the Cold War in 1962.
Kim Jong-Il has expressed a culinary interest in Felix, a prize-winning rabbit reared by the reclusive, somewhat depressive German Johann Wertheim (Steve Rodgers), living just outside Bonn. As the Dear Leader’s birthday approaches, secret agent Mr Chung (Kaeng Chan) takes it upon himself to procure Felix at any cost in order to prove his loyalty and love for his leader. Believing that Westerners only care for money, he pays a handsome sum of €100,000 for Felix and returns with his loot. Johann then decides he can’t live without his furry friend and follows Chung to North Korea. Johann’s ostensibly well-meaning friend and rabbit vet Sophie (Kate Box) offers to accompany him on the mission.
Rodgers is one of Sydney’s most consistently excellent actors, and in this production he is again in great form. He seems slightly ill at ease with the script in the opening scene though, and indeed Brookman’s script improves as the level of action increases. Director Lee Lewis, together with designer Gadsby, successfully transports the action out of the tiny Griffin stage to Germany, Poland and North Korea using projections on the black walls.
The play off between socialism and capitalism doesn’t leave either world view looking particularly promising. Socialism as embodied by Mr Chung and Ms Park Chun-Hei (Mémé Thorne) is portrayed as structured, vainglorious and ruthless, while capitalism as embodied by Johann and Sophie is tired, alienating and delusional.
All characters bar Felix show a motivation to be loved by others born of being spurned in the past. Felix represents an innocent kindness as an alternative to the selfishness and vindictiveness of the others — the premise being that the pursuit of power doesn’t end well for the innocent. Brookman has a remarkable ability to portray genuine benevolence as a performer without it coming across as saccharine, which is integral to us caring about Felix’s fate. His line to Johann, "I don’t forgive you", is all the more condemning for its reasonableness.
A Rabbit for Kim Jong-Il is an ambitious, funny production of which Dürrenmatt himself would be proud.