Bombay Showcase

From the clandestine to the romantic

Dubbed a global sensation, an Iranian play is set to storm Prithvi Theatre this evening with two back-to-back performances, one of which has already sold out at the time of writing. Q Theatre Productions (QTP) brings us Nassim Soleimanpour’s White Rabbit, Red Rabbit, in association with the Berlin-based agency Aurora Nova, named for one of Edinburgh’s most exciting and cutting-edge venues, a refurbished church where the play had one of its earliest international runs during the 2011 Fringe festival. This month, it returned there for a fifth season in six years, so it is quite a coup to have it performed in Mumbai around the same time, albeit with local actors Richa Chadha and Sohrab Ardeshir.

Secrecy is of the essence here, and an emphatic advisory on most playbills is to not Google the play (which could prove to be counter-productive in these click-happy times). The script itself, sealed in an envelope, is handed over to the actor for the first time only minutes before the performance. There are no rehearsals at all, and the performer discovers the piece along with the audience. The result is a wonderfully ephemeral whirlwind that exists purely in the ‘here and now and never again’. Having tasted blood, the actor passes on the baton to another for the next performance. QTP has lined up 30 actors for an Indian run of as many shows, which will see the 60-minute solo act travel to Kolkata, Delhi and Bangalore. Before this run, actors Atul Kumar and Ali Fazal had set themselves up for the challenge at the Writers’ Bloc Festival in April. “It is an innovative one-of-a-kind experience that encapsulates live theatre perfectly: each performance is unlike any other. What attracted us is its ability to engage an audience with simplicity and humour,” says Quasar Thakore Padamsee, QTP’s artistic director.

Soleimanpour wrote the piece over six harrowing years. While scripting it, he was bearing the consequences of refusing to enrol for Iran’s mandatory military service. He was barred from international travel, and in many ways this virtual confinement appears to inform White Rabbit, Red Rabbit’s clandestine tenor. During a 2012 London run, a front row seat was kept empty as a visual acknowledgement of the absent playwright. Since then Soleimanpour is no more in ‘country arrest’, having received his passport. His next project dispenses even with actors.

“The whole story started with a nightmare. I saw myself committing suicide on stage,” he told an indie media outlet in 2011. Those macabre origins notwithstanding, the absurdist play is full of light-hearted interactive moments that allow members of the audience to author diversions all of their own. Animal impressions, including those of the eponymous rabbits, are part of the mix. An actor’s skill as storyteller extraordinaire certainly comes to the fore. Yet, it is the unexpurgated voice of the writer, untouched by the artifices of theatre, which is expected to be the play’s mainstay.

Fittingly, QTP’s other new play that opens this week showcases another writer’s unique vision. Included in this year’s longlist for The Hindu Playwright Award, Wildtrack, written and directed by Arghya Lahiri, begins a run of four shows on August 17. An intimate two-hander featuring Devika Shahani and Jaimini Pathak, this is Lahiri’s first full-length script. The blurb reveals just enough to set up a tantalising premise: “Boy meets girl. She laughs. He records it. What could go wrong?” The term ‘wild track’ refers to an audio recording meant to be synched with film, although recorded separately. It could be the ambient sound of a room, with the whir of a ceiling fan and the low drone of a radio, overlaid on an intimate conversation. Or, the bustle of a playground that adds atmosphere to a scene, or the chirping of crickets that makes a forest come truly alive. It is a term from acoustics, and one that is not quite unexpected from Lahiri, a tech junkie who is one of our most prolific light designers but also acquits himself well in almost every other department.

At its heart, Wildtrack is a delicate contemporary romance. “It was an opportunity to examine two people very closely,” says Lahiri. “To watch them across years and observe them in this one special relationship.” While writing it, he wanted to make sense of the fabric of memory, and how it is impacted so irretrievably by time. “People are resilient, but relationships can be very fragile. It is at this intersection that ‘life’ happens,” adds producer Toral Shah. Since Annie Zaidi’s So Many Socks in 2012, this is QTP’s first production based on an original Indian script. It is, thus, a much-awaited venture. Lahiri’s goodwill within the theatre community ought to take care of ticket sales, yet there is certainly the promise of a tale that could cross over to diverse audiences everywhere.

The writer is a playwright and stage critic

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Printable version | Apr 18, 2021 3:13:05 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/mumbai/entertainment/From-the-clandestine-to-the-romantic/article14572708.ece

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