White Rabbit Red Rabbit

Returning Fringe classic White Rabbit Red Rabbit is Nassim Soleimanpour’s experimental monologue, in which the relationship between actor, writer, audience and text is explored and questioned. This is a one-man show with a difference: a new actor arrives afresh with the audience to each performance, having never before seen the script. They don't know what they're getting themselves in for, and this is exactly as Soleimanpour would have it.

The central concept (some might say gimmick), leads to problems of its own

White Rabbit Red Rabbit has the capacity to be a touching piece exploring the place of the writer, and ideas of narrative with an intense and eerie climax to the performance. This night’s actor, Libby McArthur, failed to deliver on this front. This was not much helped by the audience on this particular day either, who responded to MacArthur's pantomime-dame diction with equally pantomime heckling – when the script demanded a pound coin from the audience, one group responded with a chorus of “it's not going to happen, we're Scottish!”

This is, of course, the nature of a text like this – it is by all accounts a little weird, and neither audience nor cast have the opportunity to prepare for the script's tone: some misjudgement is inevitable in this experiment. The central concept (some might say gimmick), leads to problems of its own. In MacArthur's defence, her performance softened as it progressed, and she adjusted to the script itself, such that at the climax her emotion was quite moving. It seems that she came in with a sense of the play gleaned from the title (circus/magic), but left with a sense of Soleimanpour’s experiment.

At the Fringe, White Rabbit Red Rabbit often guest-stars famous actors who are performing in other shows for a single performance of this show – it is an excellent Fringe formula. One gets the sense that the producers are scraping the bottom of the acting barrel (few big names are yet to perform in this role), but perhaps this is ultimately positive – selling on the name of text rather than the actor might lead to an audience more conducive to a theatre atmosphere.

However, a review must take note of Soleimanpour’s ideas, and try to separate the text from the performance. The fickle, transitive aspect of live performance being set aside, White Rabbit Red Rabbit's text itself is interesting – a curious question is raised about artifice, and the author's presence is tangible and even touching. White Rabbit Red Rabbit is a genuinely interesting and understated play, but unfortunately McArthur’s performance did not deliver on these intricacies, and it’s impossible to tell if and how they can be brought successfully to the surface in the production’s varying format. However, with a new cast every night, the risk of disappointment is just about worth taking.

Reviews by Ryan Hay

Assembly George Square Studios

White Rabbit Red Rabbit

★★
St Ninian's Hall

Enron

★★
Gilded Balloon Teviot

Hess

★★★
Pleasance Courtyard

Swivelhead

★★
Scottish Storytelling Centre

Loud Poets

★★★★
Greenside @ Infirmary Street

Boys

★★★★

Performances

Location

The Blurb

Forbidden to leave his native Iran, Nassim Soleimanpour wrote a play which travelled the world in his place: one with no rehearsals, no director, a different actor each night, and a sealed script. White Rabbit Red Rabbit is a potent reminder of the transgressive and transformative power of theatre. Since its premiere in 2011, the play has been translated into 20 different languages and has been performed over 1,000 times by some of the biggest names in theatre and film, including Whoopi Goldberg, Nathan Lane, John Hurt, Simon McBurney, Stephen Rea, Sinead Cusack and Ken Loach.