White Rabbit Red Rabbit
by Tracey Toh
There is no set, hardly any props, and an actor who has not even read the script, let alone rehearsed for the show. These theatrical conventions which are often seen as logic, are thrown right out the window in the play White Rabbit Red Rabbit, a quintessentially self-referential work of theatre that subverts many of the audience’s expectations.
The play is written by Iranian playwright Nassim Soleimanpour, an objector who has refused to take part in his country’s military service and whose passport has been confiscated. Censorship of art usually offers the artist a degree of currency or, at least, raises interest in his work; Soleimanpour is well aware of the fact and trades heavily on his status as a censored artist.
The themes of control, conformity and caution are explored throughout the play, which is centred on anecdotes of the domestic experiments carried out by Soleimanpour’s uncle. These experiments involve rabbits left in a cage and starved almost to the point of death, certainly to the point of desperation. As the play progresses, we learn more about the behaviour of the rabbits when subject to such conditions and gain insight into human behaviour when subject to political oppression.
What we see and hear is rarely disturbing, though, for such political themes are hardly new in the realm of theatre. Nevertheless, the theatrical concept employed is refreshing. Audience participation is a crucial aspect of the play, and the audience is constantly reminded that they are not passive spectators, but individuals who possess the power to change the course of events. The critical role that each audience member plays, whether in going up on stage to perform a task, encouraging the actor to act out certain scenes or even making the decision to stay in the auditorium, reflect the freedom and free will we possess as citizens. The question then becomes if and how we choose to exercise our rights.
That question was raised again during the one-night-only staging of White Rabbit Red Rabbit by the Singapore Repertory Theatre (SRT). The script was entirely narrated and enacted by a single person – Artistic and Managing Director of SRT Gaurav Kripalani, a veteran in the theatre scene. Though it was the first time he had seen the script, he presented with wry humour and admirable self-possession. With Kripalani giving voice to Soleimanpour’s words, the audience was challenged to reconsider their own participation in the political theatre of their society, and left to wonder if one was really any different from the eponymous rabbits.