Let me start with what I can tell you: White Rabbit Red Rabbit is a theatrical experiment. It involves a new actor each performance who, when introduced, opens an envelope containing the play script. They are given no other knowledge about what they must do, only to follow the instructions the script provides them with. The stage is barren aside from a few chairs, a few props, and two glasses of water. No one has any idea what will happen.
White Rabbit Red Rabbit is highly interactive; the play invites many of the audience members to participate in the experiment, whether directly by being onstage, or indirectly by supporting the actor and participants. The script itself centralises on themes of complicity, of obedience, and of freedom, and it’s animal anecdotes help us to visualise these themes as Soleimanpour’s stories darken and we travel further down the rabbit hole with the performer. These anecdotes, especially in combination with our performer and his willingness and attitude toward the text, help create comedic moments to pair with the dark places Soleimanpour’s script takes everyone.
Beside me on opening night is an empty chair, reserved for Soleimanpour. When he wrote the play in 2010, he was forbidden to leave his native Iran. With this seat reserved, his spirit can witness to the production whether he’s able to leave Iran or not, or even whether he’s alive or not. It reminds me of how theatre brings people together, no matter your origin and no matter your background, and in this case, no matter your geographical location.
Tonight’s performer is Ricky Dey, a Wellingtonian actor, writer, and director. Dey is a generous and entertaining performer; he tackles the challenge with gusto, giving his absolute all no matter what unexpected turn Soleimanpour’s script fires his way. Dey’s eagerness is noticeable, as he sometimes jumps the gun with his instructions, but this creates miniature moments of reflection or places for him to comment on what’s happening, amplifying the comedy. His experience allows him to navigate the cold reading of the text with relative ease, and his casual demeanour is enjoyable to watch.
The production also serves as a celebration of BATS Theatre and its lineage. White Rabbit Red Rabbit is a fundraiser to help keep BATS flying along and helping Wellington’s young and emerging artists in creating and facilitating their work. In a place that relishes in the experimental, a safe theatre space that allows our practitioners to take big risks, White Rabbit Red Rabbit couldn’t be a more perfect fit.
There’s little more I can say about White Rabbit Red Rabbit without spoiling it, which would defeat its purpose and power. The publicity material and programme both imply that anything could happen and I don’t doubt that for a single second. The possibilities of this production are titillating, and it’s for this reason I encourage the curious-minded to see this show. On their opening performance, White Rabbit Red Rabbit receives a well-deserved sold-out theatre. Even now, I’m still processing my feelings and what I saw. There are very few shows that leave this kind of lasting impact on their audiences.
White Rabbit Red Rabbit runs until Saturday 3 June, with two shows each night at 6:30pm and 9:00pm. You can book tickets through the BATS Theatre website. Each performance has a different performer, and if you’re eager to catch someone in particular, check out the show’s Facebook page for more information. In conjunction with their season, the creative team has organised The Great White Rabbit Red Rabbit raffle. Information about the raffle can also be found on the BATS Theatre website, where you can purchase raffle tickets separately.