White Rabbit, Red Rabbit

Nassim Soleimanpour

Live Theatre in association with Aurora Nova Productions

Live Theatre, Newcastle

From 21 February 2013 to 17 March 2013

Review by Peter Lathan

An actor and a member of the Live Theatre staff walk onto the stage. The staff member is carrying a large sealed envelope. She introduces the actor—for this performance it is Shaun Prendergast; it will be someone different every night—and then hands him the envelope. It contains the script. This is the first time he has seen it. She leaves the stage and stands at the back of the theatre, ready to interrupt if he misses anything out or doesn’t follow the stage directions (which he has to read out) to the letter.

A bit of background: the playwright is Iranian and cannot get a passport so he cannot leave the country. He cannot get a passport because he refused to do military service. This play is the only way he can travel.

It would be totally wrong of me to reveal anything about the play except in the most general terms. The content is ever-changing—it sometimes sounds almost like stream-of-consciousness—making me think of Pirandello at one point and of the detailed stage directions of GBS at others and I was even reminded of David Mamet’s book of advice to actors, True and False, which so annoyed me that I actually threw it onto the floor in anger when I was halfway through it.

White Rabbit, Red Rabbit is political; it’s personal; it’s surreal; it’s funny; it’s a bit scary; it reminds me of the Milgram experiment; it’s…

And that’s about as specific as it is possible to get without giving anything away—apart from saying that there is no set, just a few bits of furniture and props, and very basic lighting.

What fascinates me, however, are the possibilities. Every production of every play is different because the actors filter it through their own personalities and experiences, are influenced by the other cast members and the director during the rehearsal process, and, in the case of a play that has been performed before, by previous productions.

Here we see their immediate reactions as they read the words for the first time, words which are as new to them as to anyone in the audience who has never seen the play before—and that will probably be the overwhelming majority. Each performer (and it’s interesting that Live have invited actors, poets, writers and comedians to perform the piece) brings nothing but himself or herself to the piece, so every performance is going to be very different.

Shaun Prendergast made a lot of use of his pantomime experience in his approach. Poet Degna Stone is going to have a totally different response, as are playwright Shelagh Stephenson and comedian Sarah Millican.

Each audience is going to see a very different play, a very different take on the words. Last night we laughed a lot. For the rest, who knows?