Lyceum’s production of Ionesco’s Rhinoceros in collaboration with DOT Theatre of Istanbul returns to the Lyceum for its spring season. Well received at the Edinburgh International Festival I was excited to see it again. Adapted by Zinnie Harris this classic 1959 play has been beautifully brought to stage at a time where the themes are extremely relevant to situations in modern society.
Directed by the founder of DOT, Murat Daltaban, this is an insightful piece that really demands the attention of its audience. Harris’s adaptation is incredible – preserving Ionesco’s absurdist farce whilst enabling it to really flourish on the Lyceum stage. It is fantastic to see Daltaban’s vision so clearly and to see that this revival maintains its links to the original production. It was a shame not to see some of the fantastic cast return to this production – noticeably I missed Ece Dizdar who played Daisy. Robert Jack reprised his role as Berenger with Steven McNicoll returning to play his belligerent friend Jean.
As mentioned in my previous review and which remains true – I have previously struggled with absurdist plays, attempting to grasp the meaning behind the bizarre, but with Rhinoceros the themes and political insights shone through. Examining nationalism, facism and fundamentalism Rhinoceros was alarmingly relatable leaving the audience feeling chilled as they drew terrifying parallels with modern events. As we watched the plight of drunkard Bérenger who refused to conform to the beliefs of his fellow citizens Rhinoceros asks us to ponder the meaning of resistance when an outcome seems inevitable. Crucially, it asks us to think about how the hero is often the most unlikely individual and asks us to reexamine whether it is worth standing up for what we believe in when everyone else around us has given in.
Although, Rhinoceros can not to be said to end on the most positive note it does serve to solidify the audience’s resolve to stand for what they believe in – well, it certainly did mine – and it also continues to prove the relevance theatre can have as a mouthpiece. Whilst people may, on occasion, lament the failures of art to tell a message, I defy anyone to sit through the Royal Lyceum Theatre Company and DOT’s production of Rhinoceros and claim that it does not shine a light on the horrific ability of humans to adapt themselves to situations for the sake of ease and give in to poisonous ideologies instead of maintaining their independent thought and beliefs. History has shown us multiple examples of this and the sad, and frankly scary, way humans can become a herd following each other mindlessly. Rhinoceros brings this to light in a clever thought provoking production that unites two leading theatre companies from two very different backgrounds.
If you managed to catch Rhinoceros at the Festival I must confess I wasn’t quite as enthralled by my second viewing as my first. This may be because the impact of its message was lessened once already seen, which perhaps itself speaks volumes about me rather than the show. I did feel however that this cast stumbled a little on the script. Although only two cast members had changed (the addition of Oguz Kaplangi and Jessica Hardwick as Daisy) the second half felt clunkier and less rehearsed, the pace slipped and the dialogue consequently felt heavy. I could not help feeling that the chemistry between Jack and Hardwick, Daisy and Berengar, was diminished and quite uninspiring. Their scenes felt excruciatingly drawn out and added to the end of the show feeling very dialogue heavy.
However, I still believe Rhinoceros is a fantastic adaptation with themes that are scarily present in today’s society. If you haven’t already seen it, well worth the wander down to the Lyceum.