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Khanh Doan and Koo Park in A Tale of Peter Rabbit at SCT. Photo by Truman Buffett.

A new and modern Tale of Peter Rabbit

SCT presents an interesting twist on a classic story

Seattle Children’s Theatre is currently presenting “A Tale of Peter Rabbit,” a modern retelling of the much-loved classic that encourages viewers to think outside the box. Currently running through May 19, the production is appropriate for the whole family, including children as young as three, though there are some suggestions about content and artistic direction that should be noted for viewers who are easily scared.

Sunam Ellis, Pilar O’Connell, Khanh Doan, and Koo Park in A Tale of Peter Rabbit at SCT. Photo by Truman Buffett.

A [New] Tale of Peter Rabbit

“The Tale of Peter Rabbit” was written and illustrated by Beatrix Potter, whose name is synonymous with childhood imagination. Her stories of anthropomorphic animals have entranced and delighted young readers since “Peter Rabbit” was published in 1902, over 120 years ago, which is why this SCT production is so enticing. Peter Rabbit was the first character to offer licensed ware when Potter patented her blue-jacket-wearing bunny. Since then, he and Potter’s many animal creations have been a staple of bedtime rituals. Though Potter wrote her books for Victorian audiences, this new iteration aims to modernize the tale for new generations.

Koo Park, Khanh Doan, Pilar O’Connell, and Sunam Ellis, in A Tale of Peter Rabbit at SCT. Photo by Truman Buffett.

Outside the book

Written by Trista Baldwin and directed by Anita Montgomery, “A Tale of Peter Rabbit” takes the characters we know and love and sets the scene for the production outside the book, metaphorically and physically. A gigantic, physical copy of Potter’s classic rests unassumingly on the stage. Sisters Mopsy (Pilar O’Connell), Flopsy (Sunam Ellis), Cottontail (Khanh Doan) and their mischievous brother Peter (Koo Park) acknowledge the famous story told about their lives but go about their merry day, bickering like all siblings do and threatening to tell mother about each other’s secret escapades into Farmer McGregor’s Garden.

The book and its well-known premise have become something of lore for the little bunnies, who struggle with the roles into which they have been forced. Mopsy likes to sneak into Mister McGregor’s well-grown property for his butter lettuce and radish tops. When Flopsy mentions the threat of her mother finding out, Mopsy takes solace in the idea that Peter, deemed the “naughty” rabbit, will indubitably take the fall instead.

Pilar O’Connell in A Tale of Peter Rabbit at SCT. Photo by Truman Buffett.

You are more than your one bad mistake

This reimagining certainly incorporates more themes and lessons aimed at modern audiences than its source material, and the idea that each bunny can escape the label placed upon them is central to this updated story. Mopsy, a “good” bunny, grapples with her role and title, given that she has done the exact thing that got Peter labeled a “bad” bunny. The production of A Tale of Peter Rabbit aims to explain this complicated dichotomy of human (and rabbit) nature to its youngest viewers.

Peter, who rebels against his own pre-ordained designation, struggles with the untimely demise of his father, who, as the famous story goes and as his family loves to remind him, was baked into a pie by Mrs. McGregor. Peter feels compelled to rebel against the picture painted of him, that of a disobedient and wayward rabbit whose selfish tendencies put his own life at risk.

What if Peter was going into the garden to understand what happened to his father? What if his sister had been caught in the garden instead? Ultimately, the play begs children and adults alike to understand and acknowledge that we are not defined by one bad or misunderstood deed. As the bunnies return to the storybook, they find ways to subvert our understanding and expectation of the tale, repurposing their tale to one of grace, comradery, and acceptance.

Koo Park and Pilar O’Connell in A Tale of Peter Rabbit at SCT. Photo by Truman Buffett.

Recommended age and difficult scenes in A Tale of Peter Rabbit

SCT has removed their age recommendation for the play, stating: “This play is a reimagined version of Peter Rabbit’s story. It includes themes of sibling connections, grief, and facing your fears. There is discussion of the death of a parent and a stylized depiction of a larger-than-life, unseen villain created with lights, shadow, and sound. This may be intense for some audiences.”

My recommendation is that this play is appropriate for a mature 3- or 4-year-old child and older. I brought two 4-year-olds with me, and apart from a moment of covering their eyes, neither seemed overly scared or concerned by what they saw on the stage. They laughed at the many silly moments, particularly Mopsy’s adorable rap solo, and seemed genuinely interested in their plight.

SCT has noted in an anticipatory email they send to all attendees before their showtime that should be mentioned. For one, there is an emphasis and frequent discussion of the father rabbit’s death, notably the grief each bunny works through in the play A Tale of Peter Rabbit. They make several comments about “rabbit pie,” which could lead to some uncomfortable discussions on the technicalities of this.

Pilar O’Connell, Sunam Ellis, Khanh Doan, and Koo Park in A Tale of Peter Rabbit at SCT. Photo by Truman Buffett.

When Farmer McGregor grows from a representational hand puppet to a much more real antagonist, his presence is portrayed by a “large shadow puppet” projected onto the backdrop, one that has “red eyes and fangs and speaks with a low, spooky tone.” The play is shown from the bunnies’ perspective, so it makes sense that he would be a terrifying figure. However, production seems to be overdoing it. His voice is a deep, synthesized abomination. His minimal outline projected onto the stage caused one very astute elementary-school-aged child to ponder aloud, “Is that Freddy Krueger?”

For young theater-goers, the biggest difficulty in terms of comprehension will be the fact that the production jumps between outside the story to “inside” the story. The preemptive email from SCT also addresses this. It’s a vague and slightly underbaked concept, even for adult viewers. It’s likely that little kids certainly won’t follow this point in their journey. Though it won’t deter from their enjoyment, it can ignite some statements of confusion or need for clarification.

Despite this, the young audience members in my party were quite happy with the production. The points in the SCT email that concerned me before going proved unfounded in our party. This could be a bigger issue for much younger or much more easily frightened children, though it would be easy to avoid by stepping out of the theater for a few opportune minutes.

Know before you go

• The show runs through May 19, with various showtimes spanning the morning and evening.
• Runtime is approximately 60 minutes without an intermission.
• The ASL Interpreted Performance is Saturday, May 4 at 1:00 p.m.
• The Audio Described Performance is Saturday, May 11 at 4:30 p.m.
• The Sensory Sensitive Performance is Sunday, May 5 at 11:00 a.m.
• Seattle Children’s Theatre is located at 201 Thomas Street, Seattle 98109
• Garage and street parking are available with payment. Give yourself ample time if there is an event at Climate Pledge Arena.
• Seattle Children’s Theatre is running at full capacity.

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About the Author

Candice McMillan

Candice McMillan has been writing about film for more than 10 years. Since becoming a mom to her two daughters, she’s had to hang up her affinity for horror films, catering to the two smallest critics who prefer shows about rescue dogs and a family of pigs. Candice has degrees in journalism and film critical studies from USC, and her favorite children’s film is a toss-up between “Anastasia” and “A Goofy Movie.”