White Rabbit, Red Rabbit
New Theatre ****
‘FROM NOW on, we are all present,” says the actor onstage, but the words belong to Nassim Soleimanpour, a conscientious objector forbidden from leaving Iran. Instead, a different performer speaks for the playwright for each show, following an unrehearsed script. Here, it was the effortlessly charismatic Stephen Rea, but through direct address, good-humoured audience involvement, comic allegory and philosophical provocation, Soleimanpour is the more conspicuous figure. It helps that Rea, despite his fame, is an actor who can disappear – and that he does a good ostrich impression.
Writing in isolation, Soleimanpour uses his imagination as a political tool, traversing his restrictions, describing Iranian censure and implicating his text – including a playful fable about a disruptive rabbit – to make blunt points about authoritarian control and group conformity. (These are blunter still when he later explains them.) A more complicated gesture asks us to finally forget the security of a theatre and believe in a much darker manipulation, which our audience vocally resisted. That seemed a positive response to the involving power of Soleimanpour’s experiment.
Whether it worked or not, you had to be there.
Until September 22ndFarm
Meet at the Lir ****
The audience for WillFredd Theatre’s captivating promenade piece is not so much led through a transformed urban space as herded together towards a rural idyll. We peer into a pen of city property dealers as livestock gathers around them, first through playful suggestion, then in riveting full flesh. What follows is a gleefully eccentric documentary, based on interviews, in which a farmer may discuss breeding cycles and global milk yields while devouring an entire Swiss roll, cow birth is described straight from the heifer’s mouth, or a bee keeper leads us into a doo wop cabaret to explain the cruel succession of queens.
With one striking exception – a physical sequence embodying rural depression – farming life comes off as a wholesome fantasy of honest work, social cohesion and shy speakers (John B Keane or John McGahern might interject), rather than the more complex roots of Irish society.
Director Sophie Motley’s methods trump the message, though, with a constantly inventive, affectionate and beautifully performed production. On the Fringe, it’s outstanding in its field. Peter Crawley
Bewley’s Café Theatre ***
“I wish I could tell a simple story,” says Danni, as she ties the threads of her ragged testimony together at the end of Gavin Kostick’s play Black Wednesday. There is a best friend and first lover. A wheelchair-bound sister. A dabble with drugs and dealing. The suggestion of a greater crime. Dee Burke is an earnest and energetic Danni, piecing together the complexities of relationships going slowly wrong. However, director Dan Colley gets her to move boxes rather needlessly throughout the 50-minute show, and the forced physicality distracts rather than enhances her solo performance.