Writer’s dramatic twist to the new media

“White Rabbit, Red Rabbit” actors, from left, Eliza Bell, Raoul Craemer and Kat Bhathena… don’t see the script until they get on the stage and audiences are told to keep their phones turned on. Photo by Lorna Sim

“White Rabbit, Red Rabbit” actors, from left, Eliza Bell, Raoul Craemer and Kat Bhathena… don’t see the script until they get on the stage and audiences are told to keep their phones turned on. Photo by Lorna Sim

IF you wanted to revolutionise the theatre, how would you start?

“When the theatre phenomenon started thousands of years ago,” says Iranian playwright Nassim Soleimanpour, “just one school emerged – the Greek school… but now we are talking about satellites and the internet and cell phones… I am trying to create a shortcut to the new media.”

I’m talking to Soleimanpour by phone to Berlin, where he’s attending the Theatertreffen theatre festival.

Soleimanpour’s now-famous play “White Rabbit, Red Rabbit” will soon get an airing at The Street Theatre and it’s bound to raise questions. Notable actors such as Raoul Craemer and Geraldine Turner will appear in the play, but here’s the rub – none of them will have seen the script until they get on the stage itself. And audiences are told to keep their phones turned on.

“We cast different actors each time and we hand them the text,” he says. “They open the envelope and they start reading the text… in that way we can shift the whole paradigm of theatre.”

Trained in European theatre like any of our own writers, Soleimanpour can talk about “Hamlet” or the Theatre of the Absurd as lucidly as anybody, in impeccable (he says, “passable”) English, but that’s not what he’s on about at all.

Iranian playwright Nassim Soleimanpour… “I’m not house-arrested, I’m totally free”.

Iranian playwright Nassim Soleimanpour… “I’m not house-arrested, I’m totally free”.

Nobody, far less the playwright himself, is about to tell us what actually happens in the play, created while he was waiting for his passport to come through (as it did in late 2012) and figuring out how to play a part on the world stage without actually being there.

The rest is history, with outings first in New York, then at the Edinburgh Festival and later on the West End, in south-east Asia – everywhere, in fact.

“It has now been translated into 20 languages, but never performed in Iran… that proves we are talking about a social phenomenon, not something local,” he tells me.

To Soleimanpour, “White Rabbit, Red Rabbit” has nothing to do with politics, and it irritates him that Western journalists are always saying that back in Iran he was under house arrest.

“I’m not house-arrested, I’m totally free,” he tells “CityNews”.

 

“White Rabbit, Red Rabbit”, The Street Theatre, May 28-June 1, bookings to thestreet.org.au or 6247 1223.

 

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