Art of con­trol

For­bid­den to leave his coun­try, Ira­nian play­wright Nas­sim Soleiman­pour scripts a master­piece in Whit­er­ab­bit,re­drab­bit.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - READS - By RE­VATHI MURUGAPPAN star2@thes­

IMAG­INE a play with no re­hearsals, no di­rec­tor and no sets. Heck, the ac­tors only get to see the script on per­for­mance day! And, each ac­tor is per­mit­ted to star in the play once. Ev­ery night fea­tures a dif­fer­ent ac­tor so there’s al­ways a new spin to the script. Such is the for­mat of White Rab­bit, Red Rab­bit, an orig­i­nal play by Ira­nian play­wright Nas­sim Soleiman­pour, which will be staged at the Da­mansara Per­form­ing Arts Cen­tre (DPac) in Pe­tal­ing Jaya, Se­lan­gor from Feb 19 to 23 by the In­stant Cafe The­atre Com­pany in as­so­ci­a­tion with Aurora Nova Pro­duc­tions. It heads up to Pe­nang later (Feb 26-March 1).

Un­der the artis­tic di­rec­tion of thes­pian Jo Kukathas, an un­sus­pect­ing and di­verse Malaysian cast will per­form this in­ter­na­tional award-win­ning play, in­clud­ing in-de­mand ac­tor Ghafir Ak­bar (who also stars in the movie Cuak), Shar­i­fah Amani, Ezra Zaid, Pete Teo, Iedil Pu­tra, Anne James and oth­ers.

What’s the deal on stage? The sce­nario in­volves a rab­bit go­ing to the cir­cus with­out a ticket. Vol­un­teers are re­cruited from the au­di­ence and the ac­tor reads, re­acts and im­per­son­ates an­i­mals as di­rected. When the sit­u­a­tion war­rants, the in­di­vid­ual also ad libs. The shows will be de­liv­ered in English, Man­darin or Malay here.

Soleiman­pour wrote the play when he was for­bid­den to leave Iran for not do­ing mil­i­tary ser­vice a few years ago. He turned his iso­la­tion to his ad­van­tage. Ask­ing de­cep­tively sim­ple ques­tions about the na­ture of live art, his script se­cured rave re­views from crit­ics and au­di­ences at the Ed­in­burgh Fringe 2011 in Bri­tain.

The White Rab­bit, Red Rab­bit tale has been trans­lated into 15 lan­guages (since 2011).

“Mil­i­tary ser­vice is oblig­a­tory for boys in Iran. You have to par­tic­i­pate as soon as you are 18. Many Ira­nian boys refuse that and bear with pass­port re­fusals as a re­sult,” he said in an e-mail in­ter­view. “I learnt that I should stop com­plain­ing about my sit­u­a­tion and think more deeply about it. That was how I re­alised I can use it to write a play about more pro­found lim­i­ta­tions in one’s life.”

Orig­i­nally writ­ten in English, Soleiman­pour had in­tended to travel the world with the play. But it was not meant to be. The play trav­elled, but the writer re­mained in Tehran, Iran’s cap­i­tal.

“It’s mag­i­cal how our words can fly in time and space. It took me seven years to write White Rab­bit. That’s enough to fan­ta­sise any suc­cess for your play. It hit the stage si­mul­ta­ne­ously at the Ed­in­burgh Fringe and Toronto Sum­merWorks on Aug 5, 2011. That was a new day in my life,” he re­called.

That year, it gar­nered the Sum­merworks Out­stand­ing New Per­for­mance Text Award, the Arches Brick Award and Ed­in­burgh Fes­ti­val Fringe, and was a nom­i­nee at the To­tal The­atre Award and Brighton Fes­ti­val Fringe Pick of Ed­in­burgh Award. In 2012, it clinched the Dublin Fringe Fes­ti­val Best New Per­for­mance.

Back then, the Wash­ing­ton Post re­view wrote: “It brings you into re­mark­ably close con­tact with a real per­son who isn’t there, Ira­nian play­wright, Nas­sim Soleiman­pour. In a bril­liant para­dox, Soleiman­pour ex­erts deliberate and near-to­tal con­trol over an ac­tor and an au­di­ence from his own iso­la­tion in Tehran.”

Soleiman­pour dis­sects the ex­pe­ri­ence of a whole gen­er­a­tion in a wild, funny and ut­terly fas­ci­nat­ing play from Iran. Asked if the rab­bit sym­bol­ises any­thing in Ira­nian cul­ture, he would only re­veal this: “Spoiler alert. It’s bet­ter to watch the play.”

The writer, who was short and crisp in his replies, pos­sesses a pe­cu­liar sense of hu­mour.

“Is Rab­bit a com­edy? Some­times I’m funny even if I act so se­ri­ously. I of­ten sur­prise my­self and that makes come­dies for oth­ers.”

An ex­pe­ri­enced pub­lic speaker and full-time writer, Soleiman­pour is cur­rently work­ing on rewrit­ing Ham­let for a Lon­don-based the­atre. He hopes to open it there by June.

On the sub­ject of travel, the good news is Soleiman­pour now has a pass­port. He had a health check-up in 2012 in Tehran, and dis­cov­ered he was ex­empt from na­tional ser­vice (di­ag­nosed with an eye dis­or­der). No more lim­i­ta­tions, then.

Test of ma­nip­u­la­tion: Ira­nian play­wright Nas­sim Soleiman­pour’s Whit­er­ab­bit,re­drab­bit in­volves no di­rec­tor or re­hearsals.

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