White Rabbit Red Rabbit
As part of the global movement of Let There Be Theatre, a celebration of hope and inspiration during this time of uncertainty and isolation, the ground-breaking 2010 work “White Rabbit Red Rabbit”was performed worldwide on 13 March 2021 to commemorate the day, a year prior, when most theatres shut due to COVID restrictions. In Brisbane Powerhouse’s Visy Theatre, being as it is in Australia with audiences again able to share in 100% capacity theatre events, 99 of us gathered for its unique and rewarding experience. We know this as its initial minutes see us counting off our numbers, which is how we will be known for the purposes of audience participation. It is a way or organising volunteers to act out the play’s initial allegorical story of an animal’s visit to the circus.
Soon thereafter, the play becomes about much more as a solo performer, in this case the formidable Andrea Moor, reads the words of its Iranian playwright Nassim Soleimanpour, who, when he wrote the play in 2010, was unable to leave his native Iran, imprisoned as a conscientious objector for refusing to complete the nation’s compulsory military service. The highly original piece, now one of the most widely performed plays in the world, is told with no rehearsal, no director and jus this solo actor, performing the script sight unseen. It has appeared in Brisbane previously, appropriately as part of the 2013 World Theatre Festival at Brisbane Powerhouse, however many may not be aware of this, given that the first rule of “White Rabbit Red Rabbit” is that you don’t talk about “White Rabbit Red Rabbit”.This also makes it a difficult show to review without spoiling its content, which could broadly be described as a discussion of freedom and its constraints, through animal allegory. It is definitely a work worth seeing any time the opportunity arises the tone of the evening changes with each performer, making each experience particularly unique. And its interactivity means that the audience is always attentive and engaged throughout.
As its actor does not see the script prior to the performance, their reaction to sensitive material is like ours as analogies are drawn through the white red rabbit anecdote of its title which comes from a laboratory experiment that is described in detail. Ultimately, however, it is the audience members who find themselves working together in response to the dilemma posed by the script’s required decision making and it is this which resonates most strongly in after show discussions. Indeed, it is a very meta-theatrical 70-minute journey, with the playwright often directly addressing the audience through Moore as his onstage messenger.
Since its first performance in 2011, this theatrical experiment has served as a powerful reminder of the transformative capacity of theatre. Though there is no linear story, there are clear themes around legacy, writing and theatre… also, bigger, overarching ideas of freedom and freedom-of-choice, that are perfectly nurtured by its minimalist staging and the intimacy offered by The Brisbane Powerhouse’s Visy Theatre performance space.
It’s not all contemplative consideration, however, as the show’s exploration of the boundaries and distinctions between actor and character also leads to some light-hearted moments of audience involvement and the comic highlight of seeing Moor acting as an ostrich. Ultimately for me though, the biggest take away is how, nearly a decade after first experience of the experimental solo work, it has continued assurance as a unique enigmatic and thought-provoking theatre experience.