One actor, a vial of poison and a script he’s never seen before. Welcome to White Rabbit Red Rabbit. This internationally acclaimed play by Iranian writer Nassim Soleimanpour has travelled to all corners of the globe, taking both actor and audience on a journey through an innovative exploration of an experimental piece of theatre. Lead by the writer; who communicates with his ‘rabbits’ through the intermediary (the actor) this play certainly aims to leave the audience questioning everything they once believed to be true.
The modest studio-like space in which the audience enter through a fire exit in the Melbourne Arts centre is a welcome parallel to the general grandeur of the rest of the venue and is well suited to the intimate nature of the play. The audience take their seats facing a small stage which is furnished with nothing more than a ladder, a table, a chair and two glasses of water. The audience are then introduced to Australian actor/writer/comedian Osamah Sami who will be starring in the final instalment of White Rabbit Red Rabbit in Melbourne this December. Osamah is handed a small bottle by the producer (the contents of which are unknown) and greets the audience while making no effort to hide his apprehension about the events which are to unfold during the next hour or so. The space is warmly lit throughout and as Osamah opens the sealed envelope containing the script, the lights continue to stay up in the audience and on stage – we’re all in this together.
The play begins as Osamah tentatively reads the first few lines, immediately establishing a dynamic wherein the writer wishes to communicate with the audience directly through the actor; exploring this idea of being present in the future and influencing the now from a time in the past. Being a comedian definitely worked to Osamah Sami’s advantage throughout and he did well to emphasise the humour which inevitably presents itself in performing what is essentially a cold reading to an audience of 100+ people. From the beginning both audience and actor are intentionally lured into a false sense of security by the writer as the play introduces itself as little more than a playful exploration of the writer’s imagination.
However as the script progresses White Rabbit Red Rabbit takes a much darker turn; touching on cultural restraints, suicide and the writer’s own interpretation of certain sociological ideologies. There is a rawness present in Nassim’s writing which is perfectly accentuated by the honesty that stems from the actor genuinely not knowing where the play will take him. Although the premise of much of the play is that the actor will be uncomfortable, rather than making the audience feel the same, this particular performance had the adverse affect. The audience were completely in it with Osamah, to the point where the ending of the play didn’t pan out as Nassim had intended, consequently rendering the last few lines of the script redundant. Or perhaps this was exactly what the writer was aiming for, after all he does describe White Rabbit Red Rabbit as ‘not so much a play as an experiment’.
White Rabbit Red Rabbit is both daring and refreshing, but mostly it is an interrogation of human nature. The shared cultural experiences present between Osamah Sami and Nassim Soleimanpour also made for an interesting parallel within the play – an Iranian writer who finds freedom in imagining others as characters in his play communicating through an Iranian born Australian comedian who has the freedom to perform this play in a different country. If I ever get the chance to see White Rabbit Red Rabbit again I would jump at it! The beauty of this play is it’s simple complexity and keen focus on the power of live performance.