Wow. Where do I start? White Rabbit, Red Rabbit is one of the most bizarre and exciting pieces of theatre I have ever seen. Predominantly exploring social manipulation and obedience, this play requires no director and no rehearsals. In fact, it only requires one actor – an actor that is not allowed to see the script until they are onstage performing it.
White Rabbit, Red Rabbit is written by Nassim Soleimanpour. Soleimanpour is from Iran and was inspired to write this play when he was not granted a passport due to his refusal to join the Military Service (amongst other things). Consequently he created a play that could tour the world without him – that play is White Rabbit, Red Rabbit. Soleimanpour now has a passport (the result of an eye disorder making him exempt from Military Service) and in 2013 travelled to Brisbane, Australia to see his gripping play in action for the first time.
An atmosphere of anticipation and excitement fills the room as we begin to sit down. As we sit with our drinks and wait for the venue to fill, my friend Charlie and I discuss what we know about White Rabbit, Red Rabbit. It is a short conversation (usually you can’t shut us up) – we know virtually nothing about the evening ahead, a feeling that exists mutually throughout the audience.
We clap for local actor Chris Connel as he emerges through the crowd and steps with humorous trepidation onto the stage. Chris appears confident and is at ease with the audience, but apprehension dances across his face as he shouts in a thick Geordie accent “Haway then!” with vigour. As Rosie Kellagher introduces Chris to the audience he rolls his eyes and mouths a profanity that rhymes with ‘duck’ to the audience – cheeky! He grins nervously as he opens the sealed envelope containing the script he has not yet seen, and thus, the exhilarating adventure of White Rabbit, Red Rabbit begins.
I will not divulge the story of White Rabbit, Red Rabbit to you; I fear if you see it in the future (and I would strongly recommend that you do) it wouldn’t be quite the same without the element of mystery. I also think I wouldn’t be able to do the play justice so instead, I’ll write this: there are rabbits – yes, white ones and red ones, there are bears and ostriches and a vile of poison. There are also numbers, and two glasses of water – not to mention a carrot and a ladder. Intrigued? Good. White Rabbit, Red Rabbit is like nothing I have ever seen before. It is powerful and contemplative, as well as hilarious yet political. The show takes you on a journey and leaves you with an insatiable need to discuss it afterwards.
After the show I grilled a shell-shocked Chris Connel about his performance, did he enjoy it? “I think so…” he remarks, he seems slightly dazed in fact. I wondered why he wanted to undertake such a challenging role, apparently Live Theatre did an excellent job of “selling it” to him – it’s a good job they did! I wanted to know how he coped with having never seen the script before going onstage. His only instructions: don’t read the script and learn nothing about the play (oh, and to prepare and ostrich impression). He said that as an actor he is used to planning in his head, he doesn’t like to write things down and had simply pretended he wasn’t doing it up until an hour before, and then thought “S**t!” He explained that he did find it difficult in some respects. “I had to guess I was going in the right direction, I had no reference points – did I get the journey right?” I for one think he did a fantastic job.
Rosie Kellagher, formally Live Theatre’s Literary Officer, originally saw White Rabbit, Red Rabbit at The Edinburgh Festival and thought it would be a perfect fit for Live Theatre – I couldn’t agree more. Rosie was responsible for keeping Chris on track with the script for the duration of his performance – a role she has undertaken several times during performances of White Rabbit, Red Rabbit’s run at Live. Having seen so many interpretations of the show I was eager to ask Rosie which had been her favourite so far– a question that she couldn’t answer. “It’s too difficult to pick a favourite”, she told me each actor had given the performance something brand new and she stressed that each performance was completely different to the one before it, that’s what makes the show so exciting, even the actors are impressed by it.
The actors weren’t the only ones impressed by the play, the audience really invested in it, as well as its writer. By the end of the show, despite Soleimanpour being on a different continent, I felt I had gained a deep insight into the life he leads and the person he is. It is clear he wanted to make a connection with every audience that the play reaches, and it did.
One of the things that resonated with me most about White Rabbit, Red Rabbit was the buzz and debate that stayed with the audience long after the play ended. I think this is a testament to Nassim Soleimanpour’s standard of skilful writing and his creative mind. We found ourselves chatting to friends and strangers about the play – every comment bringing a new consideration to the table. I am currently awaiting an email response from Iran from Nassim himself, I plagued him with questions and I can’t wait to read his responses – I know I’m in for a good read if they are half as savvy as his play.
White Rabbit, Red Rabbit inspired me as a writer and provoked me to consider in depth the society we live in and the lives we lead today. Not bad going for a Sunday evening at the theatre!
There is little else to say about White Rabbit, Red Rabbit other than, which colour rabbit are you? You won’t find out unless you see the play for yourself…
by Alex Woolley @woolleyjumper1
March Guest Blogger