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  • Arts
  • Thursday, 20 Feb 2014

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.

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 33-year-old Soleimanpour as an exit strategy when he was denied his passport by the Iranian authorities for not doing the obligatory two-year 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 follow 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 Bahasa Malaysia, with no subtitles. It will be staged at the Damansara Performing Arts Centre until Feb 23 at 8.30pm (3pm on Sunday). Visit for ticketing or call 03-4065 0001. It will continue its run at PenangPac, Straits Quay in Penang from Feb 26 to March 1 at 8.30pm (3pm on Saturday). For more information, browse or call 04-899 1722 / 2722. All tickets are priced at RM48 and RM38 (students only).

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