Lyceum’s production of Ionesco’s Rhinoceros in collaboration with DOT Theatre of Istanbul was a fantastic example of the quality of work that is presented during the Edinburgh International Festival. 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, it 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. The company of Scottish and Turkish actors work seamlessly together in a slick production despite their unusual rehearsal process (Skype rehearsals and a short rehearsal schedule before the Festival). It is thus fantastic to see Daltaban’s vision so clearly especially given the challenges that had to be overcome.
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 proves 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 missed Rhinoceros at the festival do not fear as it returns to The Lyceum in the spring of 2018 and is well worth the visit – pencil it into your diaries whilst you can.