An unnerving comedy of human freedom that defies national boundaries, censorship… and description.
Iranian writer Nassim Soleimanpour’s audacious theatrical experiment will come as a shock — not least to the performer handed the script the moment they walk on stage. A different unsuspecting performer takes the stage each night, joining the audience on a journey into the unknown; stumbling upon the humorous, terrifying and utterly personal. This internationally acclaimed new work forges connections across time and continents.
WHITE RABBIT, RED RABBIT
by Nassim Soleimanpour
22 July - 3 August 2013
Project Curator: Janice Muller
Rodney Afif, Alison Bell, Alan Brough, Shareena Clanton,
Daniela Farinacci, Ming-Zhu Hii,
Bert LaBonté, John Leary,
Caroline Lee, Brian Lipson, Catherine McClements,
Genevieve Morris, Sam Pang and
Originally produced by Volcano Theatre in Association with Aurora Nova Productions and Necessary Angel. Dramaturgy by Ross Manson and Daniel Brooks.
REVIEW: White Rabbit, Red Rabbit | Malthouse Theatre, Melbourne
BYRON BACHE, JUL 24, 2013
With no rehearsal, a different actor each night, and a script waiting in a sealed envelope on stage, White Rabbit, Red Rabbit is a powerful, worthwhile theatrical experiment.
It is tempting to call White Rabbit, Red Rabbit an unreviewable play. It has no director, no scenic designer, and a different actor playing the single role at each performance. On stage there is a white ladder, and a black table and chair. On the table there are two glasses of water, a spoon, and a single manila envelope containing the script. Actors performing White Rabbit, Red Rabbit are asked to do three things: to not see the play, to not drink from the glasses of water on the stage, and to prepare an ostrich impersonation.
Even before the envelope is opened, things are different. First, the customary please-turn-off-your-phones announcement doesn’t happen, and second, the house lights come back up again immediately. Within a few minutes, it’s clear why: White Rabbit, Red Rabbit is a piece performed by both actor and audience.
It should be said, though, that audience participation — those dreaded words — isn’t really what’s going on here, and to reveal why you might want to keep your phone on, why every audience member is assigned a number, or why you might like to take a carrot along in your bag with you would be to say far too much.
On opening night it was Catherine McClements who stepped into the unrehearsed, unnamed title role. It’s the classic nightmare, the one we’ve all woken up from: standing on stage before an expectant audience, about to perform a play you don’t know. McClements turned the nightmare on its head. Hearing her discover the script as she read it aloud was pure, unadulterated joy. Watching an actor prepare for a role as it comes out of their mouth is equal parts terrifying and delicious, and McClements seemed to delight in her own vulnerability and occasional bewilderment, and relished the twists that cast the audience as her co-conspirators.
Playwright Nassim Soleimanpour is Iranian. His status as a conscientious objector prevents him from leaving his native Tehran, but with this work he has written something that can travel in ways he is unable to. He’s absent from the room, but very much present. The play happens in his voice — we’re introduced to Suleimanpour, to his thoughts, and to the bitter orange tree that’s growing just outside his window. He tells the actor what to do, he tells the audience what to do, and he tells us what he thinks of us while we’re doing it. He even, at several points, gives us his email address. But again, to tell you why, or to say any more about the evening that unfolds would be to reveal too much.
White Rabbit, Red Rabbit promises to be a new work every night, with a surprising roster of actors — and non-actors — lined up for the rest of the run. It is hilarious, thoughtful and — in the best possible way — entirely uncomfortable. This is a potent reminder of the transgressive, transformative power of theatre, a zebra standing cockily in a stable full of packhorses. There’s magic here, and while it can’t be bottled, you can certainly buy yourself an hour in its presence.
KATE HERBERT, JULY 24, 2013
THE proverbial "actor's nightmare'' comes true in White Rabbit, Red Rabbit, in which an actor must perform a play they have never read and about which they know nothing.
The element of risk is high for the actor, and this both titillates and terrifies the audience during the performance of Iranian writer Nassim Soleimanpour's bold, experimental play.
Catherine McClements is the first actor to play the role at the Malthouse Theatre (every night the script is read by a different actor) and a slight tremor of excitement and trepidation travels from her to the audience as she reads Soleimanpour's instructions and narration.
I must not reveal the content because it will ruin it for viewers and actors alike but, from the moment McClements opens the sealed envelope containing the script, the piece is engaging and accessible, often funny, sometimes menacing and involves some gentle audience participation.
Soleimanpour's voice is clearly heard as he addresses us through his "dear actor", telling a story - or parable - about white and red rabbits that resonates with all nationalities and makes us confront our own humanity and consider life, death and liberty.
He tells tales of his family, his life in Iran and how he wrote this play to travel around the world in his place because he cannot leave Iran.
McClements deftly takes us with her on this journey of discovery that teaches us about the writer, his world and a little about ourselves.
This performance has heart and challenges the audience ever so gently to think about our choices and how lucky we are in this safe and relaxed country - however much we complain about our lives.
The show will be different every night, but it was a joy to witness a fine actor such as McClements struggle with and overcome the obstacles visited upon her by an unknown script written by a distant writer.
WHITE RABBIT, RED RABBITMalthouse Theatre, until August 3Rating: ★★★½
Photo: Janice Muller