It’s simple: a chair, a table, two glasses of water and a ladder. There’s an envelope on the table. An actor, any actor, that specific actor for the night, walks into the room, picks up the envelope, opens it and begins to read.
From here on in, everyone in the room is complicit. You don’t know what you’re in for, and neither does the actor.
This is the premise of White Rabbit, Red Rabbit, a play (or experiment?) that has traipsed the globe since it was written by Nassim Soleimanpour in Iran several years ago. As a 29 year old refusing to complete compulsory military training, Soleimanpour had his passport seized and was unable to leave Iran. So he wrote a play. He wrote a play that could do what he could not: travel the world, be performed in front of audiences across the globe, never needing a director or rehearsals or a set cast.
Now, White Rabbit, Red Rabbit has reached Melbourne. Opening night featured Catherine McClements as the select actor for the night, but every preformance of White Rabbit, Red Rabbit at the Malthouse, curated by Janice Muller with stage manager Lisa Osborn, will bring a new actor to the stage, one who has never read the script before, along with a new audience and a unique experience every night.
It’s a clever piece of theatre. The plot is more or less irrelevant, if that’s what it can even be called. The set design is more or less irrelevant, it does what it needs to do and nothing more. The omnipresent writer, using the actor as a conduit, is one step ahead of you all the time, making you laugh, making you feel a little uncomfortable at times, and making you feel deeply involved with what is happening.
The idea that someone you don’t know, can not see and will never meet (although you will get his email address) can hold so much authority over a room full of strangers is compelling. The idea that you are complicit in the experiment, along with every other person in the theatre is irksome. Yet it works.
If you get that squirmy feeling when you know the audience has to participate, or if you revel in having your time to shine, join the audience. If neither apply, it’s still worth seeing, even if it does seem a little gimmicky.