Assembly Roxy, Edinburgh
Guest reviewer: Liam Rees
A chair. A table. An envelope with a script inside, waiting for an unprepared actor.
Since its premiere in 2011, White Rabbit Red Rabbit has taken the theatre world by storm; famously requiring neither director nor rehearsals, just a new actor each night who has absolutely idea what is going to happen.
Naturally, it doesn’t easily fit into the category of a traditional play but rather can be called a theatrical experiment that explores our propensity towards compliance.
The Iranian writer, Nassim Soleimanpour, is proof of the saying “Necessity is the mother of invention”, effectively trapped in his own country due to his refusal to undertake military service. White Rabbit Red Rabbit served as his passport and allowed him to engage with audiences across the world.
Such first-hand experience of systematic abuses of power and blind social compliance makes itself known not only in the show’s content but in the theatrical form as well. We, the audience, are cast as actors in Soleimanpour’s stories and he playfully invites us to consider what it means to be an actor and spectator.
In this Annexe Arts Company production, as part of the Formation Festival, Hannah Forsyth took up the mantle, following in the footsteps of countless celebrities. Forsyth delves headfirst into Soleimanpour’s unique acting challenge and she proves to possess a great ease with the audience.
She effortlessly convinces us to join in, although one suspects this may have been aided by the presence of many Annexe Rep members, no doubt eager to get onstage themselves. While this provides plenty of comedic opportunities, in the form of many an animal impression (as called for by the script), it did, unfortunately, undermine elements of Soleimanpour’s social critique.
One imagines that with a larger crowd and less familiarity between the actor and audience, some of the script’s requests may take on greater significance. However that is the very nature of the script and is a crucial part of the show’s appeal.
On the whole there’s much to enjoy in this revival, from the thrill of discovery and gradual realisation of our own involvement in the fable to the deft intelligence of Soleimanpour’s writing and ability to manipulate an audience from the other side of the globe.
Though it could be perceived as a tad gimmicky, the marriage of form and content proves more than satisfying. Soleimanpour has got himself a winning formula here and it will undoubtedly return to Edinburgh’s stages soon.