Entering the Assembly Roxy ahead of Theatre Paradok’s production of Rhinoceros is a rather strange experience; the production team ask the audience to scan a QR code with their phones in order to receive messages throughout the course of play. Indeed, the audience are not asked to turn their phones off as one instinctively might do when going to the theatre; rather, they are encouraged to leave them turned on, albeit on silent, in order to create a greater sense of immersion for the audience. This request is certainly in keeping with both Theatre Paradok’s ethos of creating experimental theatre, as well as the absurdist, avant-garde nature of Eugène Ionesco’s original work.
Rhinoceros situates itself within a small French town where the inhabitants begin transforming into Rhinoceroses, with this sudden and shocking occurrence eventually becoming normalised while Berenger, an alcoholic everyman figure, attempts to maintain a level of individuality in the midst of it all. Undoubtedly, the play has a lot to say about group mentality and the desire to conform to societal standards, which ensures it remains a relevant piece of theatre. However, Paradok’s approach to bringing Ionesco’s work into the 21st century doesn’t really have the desired result.
While it is interesting to watch the audience scramble for their phones whenever the signifying sound goes off, it also feels as though those messages do not add anything to the play. As such the inclusion of social media platforms comes across as a weak attempt to make the play socially relevant, when there are plenty of other ways that could have been far more successful.
That being said, Paradok’s production of Rhinoceros is certainly enjoyable, excellently utilising the small space available in the venue. There are several strong performances from the cast; of particular note is Angus McHarg, who excellently captures the paranoia and anxieties of Berenger. Likewise Sam Eastop is highly enjoyable as the snobbish Botard, while Bella Charlton and Tom Hindle do an admirable job of inserting some comic relief in their smaller roles.
Ultimately, Theatre Paradok delivers an enjoyable production with a strong cast that doesn’t quite reach the same level it wishes to with its statement about society at large.