REVIEW: White Rabbit, Red Rabbit (Silo Theatre)

The global phenomenon no one can talk about.

Shh…don’t tell anyone [by Sharu Delilkan]

The global phenomenon no one can talk about.
The global phenomenon no one can talk about.

Sometimes the fact that a play makes you think, can be as important as what you actually think about the play itself. This for me was the case with Silo Theatre’s latest production White Rabbit, Red Rabbit, written by young Iranian playwright Nassim Soleimanpour.

The piece refreshingly challenges the traditional structure of a play itself, blurring the roles of audience, actor, narrator, writer and producer, while using some key analogies to express important concepts such as freedom, choice, knowledge, possibility, lack of knowledge, conformity and compliance.

Even the actor in this case Stephen Lovatt (Go Girls) has not seen the script before – the production requiring a new actor each night to keep it fresh and in the dark. Another first is where the narrative of the script is being revealed to the actor at the same time as the audience which gives the whole experience a certain edge that’s laced with danger.

Lovatt who was warm, engaging and clearly embraced the seat-of-your pants concept displaying some very fine work on stage. Being a traditionalist I would’ve preferred more of his skills to be displayed, had the script allowed. But instead the actor was more like the mouthpiece for the playwright rather than being allowed to demonstrate his interpretation of what he thinks the playwright meant – which we are accustomed to in the traditional theatrical arena.

The unpredictable nature of the entire show draws us in as audience members to be voyeurs while we watch the featured actor squirm and obey the instructions set out in the script. So yes it is scripted but no we have no idea what is going to happen because everyone reacts differently, and that I suppose is the beauty of this original piece of theatre. The only thing that comes close, in my mind, recently was Auckland’s inaugural New Performance Festival’s show Call Cutta in a Box.

Looking around, the audience was pretty much on the edge of their seats from the get-go and throughout the 60-minute long show. So from that aspect this novel style of theatre seemed to work very well. Personally however my only niggle would be that the metaphor of the ‘white rabbit’ and ‘red rabbit’ start off well but don’t quite hit the mark in the end. But I suppose this is somewhat forgivable since we are told that it is Soleimanpour’s first play in English. And this by no means detracts from the fun and novel flavour of this new experience.

Sean Lynch’s set is stark and reminded me of one of those infomercials on the shopping channels, with a table, chair and very few other props. The minimal set is complemented by the minimal lighting, which only changes when the audience is invited to participate.

The piece itself almost feels like we are being drawn into a mass psychology experiment, albeit coupled with humour, sadness, anger and a major stretching of the imagination.

Being slightly biased I was pleasantly surprised to see Lovatt on stage because I knew if anyone could pull off whatever was going to be thrown at him – he would. Suffice to say I am loathed to give away the mystery of exactly what happens because it would definitely be a spoiler and make the experience pretty mundane if you know what to expect. So here I will stop for that reason.

If you’re one that likes to be challenged and surprised then White Rabbit, Red Rabbit is definitely for you. It is a bit like watching standup comedy where you can be picked on at any time but the difference is that the person standing up on stage in front of you is equally in the dark – which makes gives everyone in the room the chance to experience the crazy journey in tandem.

In summary, I think it is a play that defies summarisation – not without giving it all away, or drawing lots of potentially pretentious conclusions. I think White Rabbit, Red Rabbit is brave, original and intriguing. I am still thinking about it – which I think is a good thing.

White Rabbit, Red Rabbit is presented by Silo Theatre in association with Aurora Nova Productions and plays at the Q Loft until July 13th. Details see Q

SEE ALSO: Theatreview.org.nz review by Heidi North-Bailey

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