[2010100] Rhinoceros


Urban Myth Theatre of Youth @ Holden Street Theatres – The Studio

1:00pm, Wed 10 Mar 2010

Now – regular readers (yeah, right – like I’ve got any of those) would have gathered that I’m not usually keen to see shows featuring young casts… but I’ll always give shows by Urban Myth a bash, because they’ve got a pretty good strike rate. And I reckon that’s because they focus on intelligent, established plays, and deliver them with production values that treat the audience with respect.

I’ve used that “respect” line a bit lately. It seems to be my new thing.

Anyway, as seems to be the norm with weekday matinees at Holden Street, this session was choc-a-bloc with a couple of school groups; incessant chatter and rustling and schlurping of Chupa Chups seemed to be the order of the day. Luckily, within twenty minutes the lollies have all been sucked or crunched into oblivion, so we were able to watch the bulk of Rhinoceros in peace.

Rhinoceros is, of course, an interpretation of Ionesco’s play; I say “of course” with my tongue planted firmly in cheek, because I knew nothing of the work… or of Ionesco. But that’s what this is all about, isn’t it? Learning. And so, when the inhabitants of a provincial French Town start transforming into the titular creatures due to an outbreak of the seemingly infectious rhinoceritis, I was bemused.

Written in the late 50’s, Ionesco was commenting on the upsurge of Communism and Fascism prior to World War II; as such, it touches on the denial that precedes the conformity. As more and more of the townsfolk join the rhinoceritis movement, the arguments of the learned become twisted and skewed; in the end, the sole person clinging to humanity is Berenger (ably played by Poppy Mee), who is far from the heroic central figure we would expect.

The young cast does a pretty good job (albeit a bit blunt and shouty), though Patrick Zoerner’s Jean is a standout – his coughing and stamping as he transforms into a rhino is bloody brilliant. Corey McMahon’s direction feels a little blocky, but does the job; the pacing noticeably picks up over the duration of the play, which leads to an exciting conclusion (but makes me think that some of Ionesco’s content may have been hacked out towards the end).

Wikipedia reckons that Rhinoceros belongs to the The Theatre of the Absurd; and, having heard the word “rhinoceros” about three hundred times in an hour, I’m not going to argue with that. The word has since taken on an absurd life of its own in my mind.

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