One part of Zinnie Harris’ triptych of productions at the International Festival, Rhinoceros is a new adaptation of the Eugène Ionesco classic. The original play, written in 1959, is a satire that tackles conformism and totalitarianism with absurdist humour, so it’s easy to see why an adaptation of the play in 2017 seems so timely. However, some of the themes are lost in this modern retelling.
The comedic aspects of the piece are played up, a tactic that works well in the opening scene, where some group moments are particularly well executed and get the audience giggling. Once the play goes on, however, these comic moments almost outweigh the political undertones, masking them in repetitive jokes that don’t always quite deliver. In particular, some cheesy references to the EIF are unnecessary and, dare I say it, a bit cringey.
However, Steve McNicoll plays Jean’s transformation scene to great effect, complete with almighty wails and shouts, capturing the horror element of this loss of individualism with a powerful poignancy. The white paint he drowns his face in seems to erase his person completely in an emphatic performance that was the highlight of the production.
The set design was another marvel; the encroaching white screens gradually minimised the stage as the human population dwindles, until, as the only man left, Berenger is isolated in a small square of space, limited and trapped.
Although the play marketed itself as a commentary on current day politics – and undoubtedly, the themes Ionesco included in the original are just as relevant today – this production seemed to rely more on the audience simply knowing Rhinoceros’ political standing, rather than taking the opportunity to really apply it to the climate of today. Subtlety can be a virtue, but it was a shame that such a fantastic chance to make a statement was not allowed to really charge.
Words: Chiara Margiotta
Rhinoceros, The Lyceum, Aug 3-12 (not 7), 7.30pm