If Theatre of the Absurd kicked off with Becket’s Godot it may have reached its zenith in Ionesco’s work; most famously in Rhinoceros.
It’s not a big stretch of the imagination for the audience to understand the concept that’s being ridiculed in this 1959 play about the pre WWII rise in fascism.
The way in which it overwhelmed an intelligent, educated and huge populace of Germany (in Nazism), but many other European countries too, does seem, on reflection, absurd but terrifyingly so.
And you’re left in no doubt that this is an absurdist comedy in Zinnie Harris’ epic production, because the word is liberally sprinkled throughout the script.
And you’re also left in no doubt that what was a mid 20th century phenomenon is prescient in these pre-Brexit days where the threat of religious war hangs heavily over us all, tainted as it is with accusations of brainwashing, fundamentalism and all sorts of ‘-ification’.
Ionesco saw 1930’s fascist ideological conformity as abhorrent (and like us he had the benefit of hindsight). His response was an absurd construct that portrays the emerging nazi’fication’ of Europe as a metaphor. Ordinary people’s metamorphosis from essentially liberal political belief-sets and world views to the fundamental acceptance of extremes of right wing doctrine was, in his play, like turning from humans into rhinocerii.
And yet it happened. And, like a plague, the more it became ideologically acceptable the more it became the accepted norm.
Few felt able to challenge and rail against it. And the more the pendulum swung the more
One of the few, in Ionesco’s world, is a simple village drunk called Berenger (played enthusiastically and engagingly by Robert Jack) who simply doesn’t understand what the world is rhinocerising.
His friends (led by the ever brilliant Steve McNicholl) gradually desert him as he becomes a lone voice of not even reason, just questioning.
It’s in parts hysterical, in parts just a bit too full-on to assimilate and in parts beautiful.
The live score by Oguz Kaplangi is mesmerising. (I will go again to see this simply to decode his incredible soundscaping of the piece with music, sound effects and rhythmic underscoring – it’s a gem of a thing).
What it’s not, is logical. This is theatre you need to engage your brain to enjoy. I liked that. And yet it has a simple charm that makes it palatable. For the most part you can simply enjoy the obvious metaphor and the fun that Zinnie Harris’ ensemble cast bring to the stage.
It’s laugh out loud many times.
And it’s fresh as a daisy. Albeit one that’s grown through a cow pat.