Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh – until 12 August 2017
Guest reviewer: Hugh Simpson
The EIF’s Rhinoceros is a thoroughly contemporary take on a modern classic, combining knockabout comedy with a deep consideration of human society.
Eugene Ionesco’s absurdist political satire, which features the population of a French town turning into the beasts of the title, is presented here in a new version by Zinnie Harris, who seems pleasingly ubiquitous at this year’s official Festival. A collaboration between the Festival, the Lyceum and Istanbul’s DOT Theatre sees director Murat Daltaban take charge of a cast split between those with Scottish and Turkish roots.
The most overtly Turkish element to the production is the quietly insistent music provided by Oguz Kaplangi. Instead, there is a definitely Scottish swagger to proceedings at first, with Steven McNicoll’s blowhard Jean and Myra McFadyen’s muttonchopped grocer drawing clearly, and hugely successfully, on the variety tradition.
As the story unfolds, however, and Tom Piper’s monumental set is scaled, it all becomes decidedly darker and more fraught. Robert Jack’s shambling everyman Berenger is an unlikely hero, but he has both a crumpled sympathy and a tragic grace as he seeks to retain his humanity in the face of the pachydermal tide.
There is a comic fizz to Harris’s version, well served by an outstanding cast, notably Harry Ward, Ece Dizdar and Sally Reid, whose pompous and splendidly moustached Botard is a gem.
There is a definite hit-and-miss feel to some of it – the humour can be a little too knowing, down to the blatant visual steal from that other absurdist Spike Milligan – but there is a wild commitment to it that brooks no argument.
The depictions of how people trample over others in the name of ‘order’ while the rest stand by and rationalise also, alas, seems just as timely as it ever has. The parallels with contemporary Turkey are so obvious that they do not need to be made explicit, but they are there to be found – as is so much more in this always intriguing production.
Running time 1 hour 50 minutes (no interval)
Part of the Edinburgh International Festival
Royal Lyceum Theatre, Grindlay Street, EH3 9AX
Thursday 3 – Saturday 12 August 2017
Daily at 7.30 pm (not Monday); Matinees Tue 8, Thurs 10, Sat 12: 2.30 pm.
Book tickets on the Festival website: https://www.eif.co.uk/2017/rhinoceros