Ionesco’s Rhinoceros depicts a sleepy French town where the inhabitants are slowly overcome by a strange phenomenon turning them into rampaging rhinos. While this initially sounds like some bad zombie film, the play was written as an allegory for the rise of Nazism and when handled correctly is genuinely disturbing. Theatraverse certainly handles the source material expertly and puts a bizarre new spin on the play in this accomplished production.
The play was presented with half the actors speaking French, half speaking English, meaning that a non-French speaker sees the performance with only half the details, half the conversations and half the answers. It may be deliberate, or it may be that they have captured the absurdist quality of Ionesco’s play by accident. This helps create the confusion and vagueness that the Theatre of the Absurd originally wanted to achieve.
The script itself also helps this impression along. One excellent moment is when Berenger’s best friend is extolling him to improve himself through culture and advises him to see Ionesco’s new play, that is currently playing. The play’s symbolism is further strengthened by the imaginative use of bark chips encircling the stage, which the rhinos begin to paw at and destroy, representing the fragile line between civilisation and savagery. Overall the set was well constructed, with adjustable fabric on frames, the colour of which successfully evoked both baked village streets and drab wallpaper.
The performance of Guillaume Paulette as Berenger was incredible; I admittedly had no idea what he was saying, but his clarity of emotion, his physicality and passion made it perfectly obvious what his character was thinking. The final transformation of Berenger’s friend Jean into a rhinoceros was wonderfully hideous, with Siva Nagapattinam Kasi successfully juggling the chilling transformation with the absurdist humour. The change in his manner from measured sophisticate to gruff rampaging beast was incredible to watch.
There were some first night issues, and the cast must be congratulated for continuing wholeheartedly throughout a brief power outage. However, this is a very strong show, with some brilliant performances, and I only hope the less than central location does not deter viewers from attending. Download a map and head to Venue 13.