Robert Stevens reviews the Not I Theatre production of Nassim Soleimanpour’s experimental piece, White Rabbit, Red Rabbit at The Lion and the Unicorn.
White Rabbit, Red Rabbit is a play about plays, for players of plays. This is rather convenient as it means that the audience is very likely to be filled with actors—seeing as plays about plays are actors’ favourite genre of play—and so the audience participation is generally of a much higher level.
The premise of the play is that an actor walks into a room with a script inside a sealed envelope. Having never read the script, the actor (much like us) has no idea what’s going on. Iranian writer Nassim Soleimanpour initially uses his power to humiliate the actor, and then he completely crushes him. Having taken full control of the actor through the script, Soleimanpour exposes the actor as a nonentity: if the actor is reading a script for the first time, is the actor a member of the audience, or Soleimanpour himself? Or, perhaps, they are acting as a mouthpiece? With a smart enough script to wrestle any authority from even the best actor, Soleimanpour explores the very nature of a conversation between a playwright and the audience of the play. Soleimanpour speaks to us from the past, and from very far away. What’s interesting about this, argues Soleimanpour, is that it forces an audience to consider not only how much trust they place in the author of the play, but how culpable they are for even watching it themselves. Anybody who doesn’t walk out is quietly assenting to the play’s performance, and engaging in a dialogue with the audience.
White Rabbit, Red Rabbit often unnecessarily draws attention to how smart it is. And it is, in fairness, very smart. Soleimanpour does raise some interesting points about the communication lag that so often exists between script and production. Yet, at times the play reduces itself to a sort of experiment, which cheapens any relationship an audience could ever build up with Soleimanpour.
It’s difficult to truly praise Not I Theatre Company, apart from thanking them for ceding all power to Soleimanpour entirely. The fact that they appeared to do very little here is much to their credit. If I have one criticism of the production itself, it’s that in the artsy gastropub theatre, the Lion and Unicorn, everyone seemed to love acting a bit too much (audience participation should never be enjoyable, let alone welcomed), and the actor very much enjoyed his own voice. However, I do concede that blaming other people for having fun is something that is more my problem than anybody else’s.
Misanthropy aside, White Rabbit, Red Rabbit is a play which explores interesting territory concerning the nature of the dialogue between an author and his audience. Though at times heavy handed, a smart and witty script makes it certainly worth seeing.
White Rabbit, Red Rabbit is on at The Lion and the Unicorn until 11th November.
Featured Image: James Cassir – Not I Theatre