In our current political climate, theatre is ripe with somewhat easy targets for satire. Eugène Ionesco’s absurdist 1959 play, Rhinoceros, was initially a mirror of the rise of fascism and Nazism but with this current run at the Lyceum it’s hard not to spot some modern issues within its targets. The play revolves around the inhabitants of a small French town gradually brainwashed into becoming wild animals, specifically rhinoceroses. Brexit, Trump, social media – the metaphor can place several issues into the mix as it holds up this rather distorted mirror towards society.
Directed by Murat Daltaban and adapted by Zinnie Harris, the production is extremely funny. There is no denying that Ionesco’s style of absurdist humour continues to provide a wealth of opportunity for being silly and holding a comical view of the world. The production has a fantastically-robust manic energy that perfectly matches the warped tale. The cast go full out with the clowning and stylised performances, and in doing so provide plenty of added humour. The set design perfectly embodies the almost cartoon-like quality of the show, with chairs bouncing up as the rhinos themselves go thundering past.
The production takes a darker turn as our main protagonist, Berenger (an excellent Robert Jack), slowly begins to realise he may be the last man standing. In one sequence Berenger meets his best friend Jean (Steven McNicoll) at home. We are treated to an astonishingly impressive transformation sequence in a bath tub that is chilling and atmospheric. Enhanced by the tribal-like live music from composer Oguz Kaplangi, a thunderous vocal and physical performance from McNicoll leaves us marvelling at this ingenious transformation from a man to a rhino. It’s an unforgettable sequence.
The production slips somewhat in its final stages, suffering from some pacing issues and lacking the humour from its earlier moments. It almost trails out without matching the energy of the earlier sequences. However, the production overall is a fine example of keeping this absurdist style of theatre alive and relevant. If it does bamboozle a large fraction of the audience, I’m sure that was exactly the playwright’s intent.