Strings at­tached

Has your ev­ery ac­tion ever been dic­tated to the let­ter? The ac­tor and au­di­ence of this par­tic­u­lar play had a first-hand ex­pe­ri­ence of that.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - ART - By DI­NESH KU­MAR MAGANATHAN star2@thes­tar.com.my

HE was an ever-present en­tity, a be­ing who was phys­i­cally ab­sent but in a strangely Or­wellian way was there nonethe­less.

His voice re­ver­ber­ated mag­nif­i­cently and tri­umphantly in the hall through the power of his writ­ten word. This was his one shot at telling his story, of mak­ing oth­ers see what he saw and feel what he felt and in the process, prick their con­science and chal­lenge their mind­sets.

Of course, re­stricted and con­fined in his home­land, he re­quires a con­duit to get his story across, an in­ter­me­di­ary.

Tak­ing on the fore­bod­ing task for the first show of Ira­nian play­wright Nas­sim Soleiman­pour’s White Rab­bit, Red Rab­bit at the Da­mansara Per­form­ing Arts Cen­tre is thes­pian Ghafir Ak­bar.

Pre­sented by the In­stant Café Theatre in as­so­ci­a­tion with Aurora Nova Pro­duc­tions, this ex­per­i­men­tal script was penned by the 33year-old Soleiman­pour as an exit strat­egy when he was de­nied his pass­port by the Ira­nian au­thor­i­ties for not do­ing the oblig­a­tory twoyear mil­i­tary ser­vice. It is, in some ways, his ver­sion of a rab­bit hole, a means of es­cape into a world that he couldn’t travel him­self.

The story is about a white rab­bit that goes to the cir­cus with­out a ticket. Along the way, it en­coun­ters bears, crows and chee­tahs.

The con­cept it­self is sim­ple but po­ten­tially daunt­ing for the ac­tors. They will only re­ceive the script on the night of the per­for­mance, in front of a live au­di­ence.

All the ac­tor has to do is say the lines of the script and do as dic­tated. Some­times, the play­wright speaks to the au­di­ence through the ac­tor and some­times he speaks to the ac­tor ... through the ac­tor.

To keep things fresh and ex­cit­ing, dif­fer­ent ac­tors will be fea­tured ev­ery night, in­clud­ing Anne James, Pete Teo and Shar­i­fah Amani. The show will also travel to Pe­nang later this month and will fea­ture Hardy Shafii and Ezra Zaid, amongst oth­ers.

Ghafir as­sumed his role as “the me­di­a­tor” quite com­fort­ably from the mo­ment he stepped onto the stage. His mag­netic pres­ence, his crisp and sonorous voice and his en­dear­ing per­sonae at once put the au­di­ence at ease.

How­ever, he him­self seemed a lit­tle ner­vous at the be­gin­ning — and who wouldn’t be. Who knew what this Ira­nian play­wright had in store in the pages of his script? And when the play be­gins with a vial of poi­son placed next to two glasses of wa­ter, you know some­thing’s at stake here.

Ghafir was also bril­liant in keep­ing the au­di­ence en­ter­tained with his nu­ances and sub­tle re­ac­tions to the some­times-wacky de­mands of the script. He had to pre­tend to be a chee­tah im­per­son­at­ing a dancing os­trich at one point, much to the amuse­ment of the au­di­ence and the dark de­lights of the play­wright!

Af­ter all, that was the whole point of the show. To have to­tal con­trol over a per­son or a group of people and make them do what­ever whets his ap­petite and ul­ti­mately test their level of con­form­ity.

At one point, Soleiman­pour asked, “What are your lim­its of obe­di­ence?”

This is a re­flec­tion of an Ira­nian liv­ing in a coun­try where people’s lives and de­ci­sions are con­trolled and con­form­ity is a way of life. People are con­di­tioned to think and act in a cer­tain way and the re­sults can be dev­as­tat­ing.

When life and death is con­cerned, do you stick to sta­tus quo or do you rise above the cir­cum­stance and ef­fect a change? That’s ex­actly Soleiman­pour’s ex­plo­ration and both Ghafir and the au­di­ence ex­pe­ri­enced it first-hand. Be­sides the ac­tor, they, too, had to par­tic­i­pate in cer­tain scenes and act it out as de­scribed by the play­wright.

White Rab­bit, Red Rab­bit is not your run-of-the-mill sort of theatre. It is a scary thing to lis­ten to the play­wright – who in his own words, said he could po­ten­tially be killed by now – ad­dress you di­rectly via an­other per­son just to get his story across. It is al­most like a séance but in this oc­ca­sion, the “spirit” has to­tal con­trol over ev­ery­thing.

You will leave the hall ques­tion­ing yourself and per­haps try­ing to dis­suade the idea planted by Soleiman­pour that you are a con­formist. You tell yourself you are your own per­son but deep down in­side, you know that is not true.

You could al­ways have done some­thing dif­fer­ently and not fol- low the vox pop­uli. And that is when the whole idea about white rab­bits and red rab­bits be­come crys­tal clear.

Which one are you?

White Rab­bit, Red Rab­bit will be per­formed in ei­ther English, Man­darin or Malay, with no sub­ti­tles. It will be staged at the Da­mansara Per­form­ing Arts Cen­tre un­til Feb 23 at 8.30pm (Wed-Sat) and 3pm (Sun). Visit www. dpac.com for tick­et­ing or call 034065 0001. It will con­tinue its run at Penang­Pac, Straits Quay in Pe­nang from Feb 26 to March 1 at 8.30pm (Wed-Fri) and 3pm (Sat). For more in­for­ma­tion, browse www.penang­pac.org or call 04-899 1722 / 2722. All tick­ets are priced at RM48 and RM38 (stu­dents only).

A heated rab­bit: The play­wright con­trols both the ac­tor — in this case Ghafir ak­bar (left) — and the au­di­ence.

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