Step into the unknown

Oct 9 2014 | By More

Performing Nassim Soleimanpour’s White Rabbit, Red Rabbit

The stage was set, the house was in and the house lights down. It was time, now, for the next performance of White Rabbit, Red Rabbit.

Siobhan Redmond, Phill Jupitus and Ewen Bremner will perform White Rabbit, Red Rabbit, this week at the Traverse

Siobhan Redmond, Phill Jupitus and Ewen Bremner will perform White Rabbit, Red Rabbit, this week at the Traverse

I walked onto the stage. It was bare, apart from a folding wooden ladder, a table and a chair. On the table, there were two glasses of water and a spoon.

It was 2.40pm, Wednesday 6 August 2014, Assembly George Square Studio 5, and everything was ready for my professional solo debut on the Edinburgh fringe. Almost everything: I had yet to get sight of the script.

I had as little knowledge of what was going to happen in the ensuing hour as the audience in front of me. Possibly less.

It is normal to attend the theatre and for the curtain to rise with you not knowing what is going to happen in the ensuing drama. Even if you know what the show is, you don’t know how it will be interpreted. That’s part of what makes live theatre so special, the tension that anything might happen.

There is an added frisson of anticipation during the fringe when, as a reviewer, you can go into a theatre knowing nothing at all about the show. Indeed, when things get hectic, the only two need-to-know facts are the where and the when. So long as you are in the right place at the right time, all else is up to the performers to surprise you.

a set of very precise stipulations

The actors are the ones with the script in their heads. They might not know how the particular audience is going to react, or how the tensions with fellow actors are going to affect the performance, but they are there to construct the drama and control how it will pan out.

A white rabbit which might, or might not, be a red herring.

A white rabbit which might, or might not, be a red herring.

Not so with White Rabbit, Red Rabbit.

Writer Nassim Soleimanpour has put a set of very precise stipulations in place on who can perform his play.

Only those with utterly no knowledge of what they are going to perform may do so. You aren’t allowed to see the show, let alone read the script. And you are recommended to find out as little about it as possible.

It is this sense of utter mystery which drew me to perform it in the first place. Producer Dani Rae first contacted me about the show back in 2011 – would I like to come and see this unique groundbreaking play by an Iranian conscientious objector?

Soleimanpour’s backstory about the writing of White Rabbit, Red Rabbit is a compelling part of the show itself. Getting a passport in Iran is dependent on having done your military service. A conscientious objector is clearly not able to get a passport and so he can’t leave the country.

If he could travel, Soleimanpour would maybe have come to the fringe to stage one of his plays. Once here, he’d have no doubt been one of those theatre bods hanging out at the Traverse or Summerhall, talking long in to the early morning about theatre and freedom.

But he couldn’t. No passport: no travel. No travel: no international face-to-face chat. No international face-to-face chat: none of the blootered into the early morning interchange of ideas that makes the fringe such a magnet.

What is a playwright to do in such circumstances? Well, he did what he could and sent a play out in his stead. There he was at home in Iran, where he is a university lecturer, sitting in the place where he writes, creating a script to travel the world.

When Dani said she was looking for people to perform the play, how could I resist being one of those to bring it to life? So I held off seeing it. Let others review it, until the point when I could make time and the show needed another person to give it its life.

And standing on the stage of Studio 5, Assembly George Square, on Wednesday 6 August 2014, at 2.40pm I knew I was in the right place, and at the right time when Wolfgang Hoffmann handed me a sealed envelope which, after introducing myself to the audience, I opened. And from it, I drew out the script and began to read.

To tell any more of the experience, save that Nassim Soleimanpour’s script made it a powerful, inventive and fascinating hour for everyone in the room – and that I stumbled over my words only once – would be a worse theatrical indescretion than revealing the ending of The Mousetrap.

This week actress Siobhan Redmond (Thursday 9), comedian and radio host, Phill Jupitus (Friday 10) and actor Ewen Bremner (Saturday 11) will be in Traverse 1 at 7.30pm. As they reach out to pick up the sealed envelope, all they will know is that they are in the right place, at the right time. Everything else will be in Nassim Soleimanpour’s very capable hands.


White Rabbit, Red Rabbit
Traverse Theatre, 10 Cambridge Street, EH1 2ED
Thursday 9 – Saturday 11 Oct 2014
Evenings 7.30 pm
Tickets and details at:


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