Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Jul 26 – 31, 2016
Playwright: Eugène Ionesco
Director: Jim Fishwick
Cast: Jade Alex, Madeleine Baghurst, Robert Boddington, Kate Coates, Rebecca Day, Jim Fishwick, Emilia Higgs, Johnathon Lo, Madeline Parker, Alexander Richmond, Julia Robertson, Cheng Tang, Luke Tisher
Image by Julia Robertson
The show begins with Frenchman Berenger having an impassioned existential discussion with his friend at an al fresco café, before being interrupted by a rhinoceros charging through the streets to everyone’s surprise. We try to return to a sense of normalcy from the strange phenomenon, but the rhinoceros rushes past again and patrons of the establishment begin arguing if it was the same beast that had appeared twice, or if they had in fact witnessed two entirely different breeds. Eugène Ionesco’s play has an absurd start, but transforms into something altogether more contemplative, interrogating issues of social conformity and ostracism, along with political ideas relating to justice and otherness. The writing can certainly be dense in parts, but it is to a greater extent, reflective and enlightening, with an amusingly eccentric plot that is quite fascinating.
Director Jim Fishwick brings an exciting visceral dimension to the intellectual work, with an avant-garde spirit that injects a sense of adventure and daring to the oft too polite Australian stage. A subversive attitude and its corresponding sense of humour make the production a memorable one, although Act III could benefit from a more textured approach to achieve greater nuance with Ionesco’s pointed assertions. Experimental and sensitive use of a chorus is a highlight, brilliantly executed by an ensemble of dedicated and enthusiastic players. Alexander Richmond as Berenger is, within the play’s bizarre context, strangely believable, and even though he lacks the bolder qualities of a leading man, the fluency of his enunciation and the solid integrity that he brings to dialogue, are key to preventing the show from disintegrating into mere farce. Julia Robertson impresses as Daisy, animated yet authentic, with a magnetic presence that secures our attention effortlessly.
No person is an island. We are herd animals that insist on acquiescence from fellow beings, only allowing minor deviations from socially constructed notions of what is acceptable. In Rhinoceros, people go with the tide, allowing dominant currents of their time to determine the way we live. Resistances such as Berenger’s can arise, but we question their efficacy. We wonder how it is that new movements in our evolution come to be, and consider the possibility that we may engineer those trajectories to suit our ideas of change for a better world. Berenger’s actions may prove futile, but if we acknowledge that the world is in need of a revolution, his solitary politic represents the only hope, and the threat of its defeat is a reminder of our moral volatility.