White Rabbit Red Rabbit by Nassim Soleimanpour

A time travelling Iranian opens his own message in a bottle and lets out a can of worms.

White Rabbit Red Rabbit - World Theatre Festival
White Rabbit Red Rabbit – World Theatre Festival

Twenty-nine year old Nassim Soleimanpour wrote a play and sent it out into a world in which he was forbidden to travel.

He wondered about the places his play would see and the people it would meet and even if it would out-live him. Years later, an actor, alone on a stage, opens an envelope that contains his script, removes it and reads it aloud for the first time just as the audience is hearing it for the first time “My name is Nassim Soleimanpour….”

There is no director or set to speak of; is it a game, a fable or a lesson? The stage is bare but for a chair, a table and a ladder and each night this script is read by a new actor opening the envelope for the first time. A connection is made through space and time… “we are all present” Soleimanpour assures the audience through his medium. Nassim is charming, he is wise beyond his years; he is a modern Aesop that enthrals his audience and indeed his actor by controlling the entire room without ever set foot in it.

White Rabbit Red Rabbit is not just a clever tale but a demonstration of the ingrained nature of control, complicacy and manipulation and in a most impressive example of absurdist theatre, the dark humour of a young Iranian had us all laughing at our own imminent downfall. Are you still reading?

Soleimanpour’s play has been performed around the world by a multitude of actors but the writer has never witnessed his own work. Banned from obtaining a passport because he refused to comply with the mandatory military service enforced by his country, Nassim remained imprisoned by Iran’s boarders. Until that is, an eye condition rendered him unfit for duty and a couple of months ago (several years after this all began), he was granted that elusive passport to freedom. It was time for him to catch up with his younger self, the writer who had tricked the authorities and escaped the country through the pages of his play.

As our luck would have it, Nassim’s first trip out of his native Iran was to The World Theatre Festival in Brisbane where he (sometimes quietly) sits in the audience and watches White Rabbit Red Rabbit performed. It is an overwhelming experience for him to come face to face with the young man from his past and he reflects that there is three of him present, Nassim who wrote the play, Nassim the audience member who shouldn’t be there at all and Nassim, his present self who is watching the other two react to this exceptional situation.

Young Nassim always asks that a seat in the front row be kept vacant for him and vacant it has always been. As the future Nassim rises to his feet and reveals himself to the audience and to the actor (the brave and beautiful Luisa Hastings) chills ran over my spine. Tonight, a prophesy is fulfilled. He walks over and takes the seat that has waited so many years for him to arrive and we didn’t mind the interruption to the reading.

We (the audience) would love to travel back in time and tell the young Nassim what he has come to mean to us… but this kind of time travel only works in one direction, not even a writer that has surprised an audience with his presence can reassure the young writer that his message has moved so many people. White Rabbit Red Rabbit is not to be missed. Soleimanpour has left Brisbane now to return to Iran, no doubt as changed as those that met him, however there are four performances left that will, as many have before, play on without him.

Join guest readers: Melanie Zannetti (21 Feb), Lucas Stibbard (22 Feb), Natalie Bochenski (23 Feb) and finally Justin Hamilton (24 Feb) in the Turbine Theatre at the Brisbane Powerhouse for this extraordinary experience.

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