Review: Iranian playwright ‘teases’ audience

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SPOILER ALERT: If you are an actor in this play (and there is a different one every night) read no further.

'Capable hands' - Geraldine Turner, photo by Kurt Sneddon
‘Capable hands’ – Geraldine Turner, photo by Kurt Sneddon

For other readers who’re intending to see the show (and I heartily recommend that you do) I’ll try not to give too much away.

It’s a highly engaging one hour show which playfully explores ideas of time and space, control and obedience, life and death. To live is the longest way to suicide the writer tells us, after listing seventeen other ways.

“White Rabbit Red Rabbit” is Iranian writer Nassim Soleimanpour’s first play in the English language. I suspect I wasn’t the only audience member to feel a little inadequate at this revelation because his command of words is formidable. Like Salman Rushdie, he teases us with artful foreshadowing and plays fast and loose with notions of truth. He brings us into his time and place so that, while we are in the theatre, we’re also with him, writing in a garden in Tehran four years ago. We picture him as “hairy, like a piece of chewing gum on a barber shop floor”.   And as much as we are with him, his presence is strong in the room, even though, in Tehran in 2010, he couldn’t possibly have predicted its performance in Canberra this week.

“White Rabbit Red Rabbit” is a ‘cold’ read – that is to say, the actor is reading the script for the first time as they perform. In fact, we see them receive it in a sealed envelope when they make their first entrance. Knowing that we are experiencing the unfolding of the story in real time with the actor enhances our feeling of involvement and our sense of both power and powerlessness. There is very little set and only one prop that is not sourced from the audience – a glass vial of white powder which may or may not be a deadly poison.

Opening night actor Geraldine Turner is a veteran of stage and screen and Soleimanpour’s work was in capable hands. Obedient to the writer’s every wish; she rose to each challenge, bringing authority, timing and self-effacing humour to the show.

Now that she knows how the story goes, she will be replaced by another unsuspecting but brave player and so it will go on until closing night.

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