The new musical, based on the 1983 film of the same name, included a scene lasting less than a minute in which the creature was carried on stage by a cast member, before being carried off again.
Although the company had received a green light for the animal to be used from the RSPCA and had been issued the appropriate licence for its appearance by the City of Edinburgh Council, a post on The Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund's Facebook page led to the change of heart by producers.
The post read: “We are very concerned about the use of a live rabbit in an upcoming run of Local Hero at The Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh. We have shared our concerns with the Theatre direct and with City of Edinburgh Council, who issued the licence for the use of the rabbit. The rabbit is going to be subjected to travel to and from the theatre, unfamiliar and intimidating sights and sounds whilst there, lots of handling during rehearsals and on stage. As a prey animal the rabbit is going to find this all very stressful. We are dismayed that the Theatre plan to go ahead, regardless of it being against all welfare advice they have had. The show runs until the end of May and the rabbit used for this is going to suffer these extreme stresses with every performance. If you are as worried about this as we are, perhaps you could contact the theatre and let them know your concerns.”
Evening News reader Jennifer Jones also shared her concerns with the paper via email, writing: “I am most concerned about the production of Local Hero, which starts tonight. They are going to use a live rabbit, I am horrified to think what the poor thing will have to go through. Rabbits are sensitive creatures, susceptible to loud noises, flashing lights, unfamiliar sights, sounds and smells. Any combination of these can cause their digestive system to close down which often leads to death or in fact they can die of shock. In my view this is unwarranted cruelty and surely the production would still be as good if they used a toy rabbit.”
Announcing that the rabbit would no longer feature in the production, a statement the Royal Lyceum said: “The Lyceum have been considering the option of using a live rabbit on stage, accordingly we followed RSPCA guidelines on animal performers, consulted closely with the rabbit’s owner and met the licensing standards of the City of Edinburgh Council to receive their approval. All were happy with our proposed use and that the welfare of the animal had been appropriately considered. Accordingly a license was granted by the council. We have however since experienced a number of complaints from a rabbit welfare group and its supporters. In light of all the messages and comments regarding the use of a rabbit in our stage production, the decision has been taken not to include a rabbit in the show."
A wry comedy about a man who sets out to buy a beach, but ends up losing his heart to a village, Local Hero is the story of ambitious Texan oil executive Mac MacIntyre who arrives in Scotland on a mission to buy a small seaside village and replace it with a refinery. It’s the deal of a lifetime, but Mac soon finds out that putting a price on this scenic spot is more complicated than he bargained for. Before the locals get rich, they must decide what a village is worth - a Maserati? A million pounds? A marriage? Or is feeling at home worth more than even oil money can buy?
The rabbit will be replaced by a prop.
Local Hero opens in preview this evening and runs at the Lyceum until 4 May.