review Abdul Hamid
Written by Iranian playwright Nassim Soleimanpour and presented at the 2015 M1 Singapore Fringe Festival, Red Rabbit, White Rabbit is a play with an intriguing premise: it has no need for a set, a director, and uses a different actor every night. The play was written during a period in which his government prevented him from travelling after he refused to serve compulsory military service. It seems that the play serves as a response to the isolation Soleimanpour must have faced during that difficult time.
Red Rabbit, White Rabbit distinguishes itself from the conventional play. The actor only receives the script from the stage manager when he steps onto the stage for the first time. What the audience sees, therefore, is a cold reading of the script. The actor does not perform in a conventional sense—having not rehearsed anything for the audience to watch. Instead, his reading of the script becomes the performance itself.
That is not to say that nothing happens in Red Rabbit, White Rabbit. At the beginning of the performance, the actor instructs a member of the audience to stir what is claimed to be poison into one of two glasses of water onstage. The actor then says that at the end of the show, he will drink from one of the glasses of water, but he will not know which one is poisoned. In this way, Soleimanpour replaces conventional narrative for a situation that straddles between what is real, and what is performed. One genuinely does not know whether the actor will ‘die’ at the end of the performance.
This was what made Red Rabbit, White Rabbit so refreshing. Soleimanpour constantly played with the audience’s expectations of what was being performed, and what was real. There were other interactive segments within the play that further reinforced this self-reflexivity. Through the actor, Soleimanpour instructed some of the audience members to count off, close their eyes, and even perform some of the parables within the script. During the performance, I was always conscious that the audience, the actor and the playwright were creating a dramatic event in the performance space.
It isn’t difficult to see how Soleimanpour’s theatrical experiment can be dismissed as postmodern gimmick, especially if audiences expect to be entertained in a conventional fashion. Paying for a ticket almost always means that a spectator is not only a willing participant, but also a paying customer. In this case, however, Red Rabbit, White Rabbit managed to surpass my expectations for a good show by reminding me that all that is needed is an actor, a story, and an audience willing to listen intently.