Review: White Rabbit Red Rabbit (Freefall Productions)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Apr 4 – 15, 2017
Playwright: Nassim Soleimanpour
Cast: Ylaria Rogers
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Theatre review
The play requires that its actor comes to the performance “blind”, not knowing anything about what lies on the pages of the playbook. It is a complete mystery to the person on stage, and also to those in the audience who are seeing Nassim Soleimanpour’s White Rabbit Red Rabbit for the first time. It is significant that the 2010 work was created when its 29-year-old author was forbidden from leaving his country Iran. The autocratic regime that he had to endure is not directly denounced in Soleimanpour’s writing, but its presence and influence on the piece, are clear.

We are made to consider how a police state operates, especially in terms of the complicity and compliance of citizens that allow inhumanity to thrive. The play shifts attention away from the way authorities intrude upon private lives, and looks instead at how the everyday person monitors and subjugates one another unconsciously, especially in cultures where freedoms are severely restricted. We are urged to think about the deficiencies in free will, and how easy it is for society to manipulate our empathy and deprive us of compassion. It wants us to see the tragedy that exists in our exploitable susceptibility to mistreating each other, and our readiness at forming habits of intolerance, hate and violence. It is to the writer’s credit that these grave and important issues are not only communicated powerfully in spite of its need to be cryptic, White Rabbit Red Rabbit is surprisingly humorous and entertaining.

Like Soleimanpour at the time of writing this script, actor Ylaria Rogers is in a position of vulnerability as she moves through the lines and instructions of every page. She submits to the text that she holds in her hands, but like those of us who have gathered to witness this unusual theatrical moment, our volition is constantly called to question. Ylaria’s obedience, and ours, come into examination, leading us to confront the nature of authority, and how it is constructed. Authority is often imagined, but even when it is real and life-threatening, the power of the masses can overthrow any dictator that sits atop. The conundrum is in our inability to perceive that collective force, and our failure to understand that the fear we experience is shared and can only manifest if we allow it to.

Review: Proof (Freefall Productions)

freefallVenue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Jul 14 – 30, 2016
Playwright: David Auburn
Director: Derek Walker
Cast: Alex Brown, Julia Christensen, Peter Flett, Ylaria Rogers
Image by Michael Snow

Theatre review
Catherine has not lived up to her considerable potential as a mathematics prodigy because of sacrifices that have had to be made for her family. Also, her talents are constantly being underestimated and undermined in the patriarchal worlds of academia and maths, who insist on perceiving her as an insignificant shadow of her genius father. David Auburn’s Proof does not explore sufficiently the sexism experienced by his protagonist, even introducing a male love interest to help Catherine realise her dreams, but the narrative is nonetheless a fascinating one, with twists and turns that ensure a gripping experience.

Derek Walker’s direction of the piece brings a good amount of tension for drama to take hold, and although enjoyable for most of the duration, a stricter hand over actors’ choices would give the show a better sense of polish. Playing Catherine is Ylaria Rogers, a dynamic performer who delivers each scene with a thoughtful diligence, but there are inconsistencies in her interpretation that make her character feel slightly distant. Alex Brown leaves a strong impression as Hal, charming and authentic, with a natural sense of timing that serves to make his role effortlessly convincing. Also memorable is Jeremy Allen’s set design, beautiful in its rustic realism, and bold in the way it dominates and transforms space.

It is an entertaining production that will satisfy audiences who want a good story. Proof has got tragedy, comedy and a lot of intrigue, but the moral of its tale is uncertain. This show does not have a strong message that it wishes to advocate, leaving us instead to absorb what we can from its staging of a very popular play. Making theatre is essentially political. It involves strangers talking to each other. The artistic act in today’s pragmatic economies is by nature one of subversion, even if the work itself is polite to the degree of being nondescript. As long as artists remain dedicated, as they appear to be here, there is hope for the world.