Thursday, 1 August 2013

nobody is who they seem

White rabbits.

Apparently, it is a common superstition amongst some to say ‘white rabbits’ on the first of the month. Or more specifically, ‘white rabbits, white rabbits, white rabbits’ must be the very first phrase uttered on the first day of the month should you wish to convince the gods of good luck that you are deserving of their favour for the 28, 29, 30 or 31 days which ensue. Theories on where this phrase originated seem to vary.

Last night I went to White Rabbit, Red Rabbit, a play by Nassim Soleimanpour at The Malthouse Theatre. This morning, the first day of a new month, I awoke with my head filled with thoughts about white rabbits. Will that bring me luck?

The first thing I thought of when I heard the title of this play, was the character in Alice in Wonderland. The waist-coated and pocket-watched white rabbit who leads Alice down the tunnels and onto a quest for adventure and understanding. He disappears and reappears as needed to provide clues or time-checks. Would this play be about a foray into wonderland?

The play is certainly a journey. For the playwright, the actor and the audience. And it is blatantly intended as such. Despite a conspiratorial lack of information about the play, the blurbs do all mention the fact that Nassim Soleimanpour, denied a passport as a result of his refusal to participate in Iran’s compulsory military service, wrote the play as a means to travel the world. He couldn’t travel, but his play could. And the nature of his play, the writer’s words spoken through the mouthpiece of the actor, allows him to do so.

The twist in this play, or in its delivery, is that the actor has never seen the script before they walk onto the stage and open the sealed envelope. At every performance, a new actor performs a cold reading of Nassim’s stream-of-consciousness storytelling. Since 2010, for an hour at a time, Nassim has been in theatres and festivals in cities all over the world. And we, the audience also travel. Nassim provides us with a brief insight into his life. We can almost taste the sour oranges from the tree outside Nassim’s window in Shiraz and we travel vast distances in our minds, seeking to sort through the allegory, the self-reflection, the questions of life and death, the idea of past and future and the deconstruction of the linear gulf that separates these to formulate our own response to the concepts that are slowly unveiled before us.

Nassim, through the actor, recounts the almost Orwellian story of the white rabbit who goes to a circus theatre and is asked by the security guard bear to cover her ears, ostensibly so that the other theatre-goers’ view is not impeded and is not offensive to those that do not have tall ears. The story appears to be about obedience and control or, in other words, about power and manipulation. We could be forgiven for believing that this is a specific comment about Iran and the writer’s experience of restriction. Soleimanpour has explained in interviews that it is not about Iran, but about the wider social phenomenon of obedience. 

At one point in the telling of this story, the actor plays the part of a rabbit pretending to be a cheetah that is impersonating an ostrich. Audience members are invited at various points to take on roles or take notes or take a photo. The actor is speaking for the writer, but by the end of the play we almost feel as though the writer is there. Nobody is who they seem.

There is more that is told or suggested or offered in the course of this play, but that would be telling. The beauty of White Rabbit, Red Rabbit is in the leap of faith you must make as you enter the rabbit hole of the play. You must be willing to accept that you don’t know where the play will take you and be happy to go along for the ride.

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