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White Rabbit Red Rabbit
Published on Friday, 26 August 2011

4 stars

St George's West (venue website)
5-29 Aug, 12:15pm-1:30pm
Reviewed by Carmel Doohan

 Recommended for age 16+ only.

The actress on stage – doer-in-residence at the forest fringe, Lucy Ellinson – has never seen this script before. This piece is acted by a different person every afternoon, and each time they have to perform it cold. While this sounds like a gimmick, it's not; the writer, Iranian Nassim Soleimanpour, is not allowed to travel, so this simple arrangement is the best way for him to get his work performed in as many places as possible.

His script (or as he calls it, his experiment) needs only two glasses of water, an actor, and audience… and a vial of what we are told is arsenic. It combines allegories on human nature with audience participation, to examine issues of culpability and choice. He describes an experiment on rabbits that has haunting implications: each time a rabbit climbs the steps for a carrot, the others get sprayed with ice cold water.  Eventually, they learn to attack any rabbit that climbs the stairs, resulting in group starvation. This confusion about the reasons why things happen and who is to blame reveals how habit and ignorance can paralyse entire societies.

This work requires assistance from the audience (I was summoned onstage to perform a rabbit pretending to be an ostrich), and through witnessing the vulnerability of an unrehearsed actor and her self-conscious helpers, we are forced to empathise with the writer’s position.  We too feel the fear of looking foolish, and have no idea where this project might lead.

The translation is not as subtle as it needs to be, but the raw immediacy of this courageous letter is very powerful; we creep out, abandoning the possibly poisoned actress, wondering what kind of rabbits we really are.

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