Rhinoceros is a post-war avant-garde drama that is both scary and amusing.
This week, UCLU Drama Society takes on Eugène’s Ionesco’s Rhinoceros, a post-war avant-garde drama that focuses on a small town whose inhabitants begin to metamorphose into rhinoceroses. This may sound absurd, but the drama plays on this intersection between the imaginary and reality to bring about an ambitious show taken on by a strong cast to create an energetic and thought-provoking performance. The play was originally written as a criticism of the sudden rise of Communism, Nazism and Fascism in post-World War 2 France, although because of the drama’s surrealist nature, this isn’t necessarily obvious. However, the main themes of the play are easily grasped and gladly applicable to today: the pressure of conforming to the norm, political uprising, mob-mentality, rebellion, culture, philosophy…
The cast presents an interesting array of individual characters and star performances include Erik Altad playing main character Béranger, whose conversion from a drunk, weak and lazy citizen to the only man resisting the upsurge is cleverly developed. Sam Pryce also demonstrates good skill in the depiction of Jean, an intellectual, prideful and arrogant character, and his morphing into a rhino in Act 2 was both scary and amusing. A special praise must also go to James Fairhead and Maciej Mańka and their taking on of Dudard and Botard respectively.
The play makes use of various effective theatrical methods, including the cast’s manipulation of multiple scenes into one, and the interjection of punchy comic lines, not to mention the rock band at the opening of Act 3, commendably bringing about an atmosphere of complete chaos and violence when the town spirals out of control. Although the smoke and lighting performance had a real impact on the senses, I felt unfortunately that the pace slowed down a bit too much as Act 3 unfolded and the play at times felt like it was dragging.
Nevertheless, the overall performance was both slick and skilful, setting the bar high for future shows; I recommend catching this play before it finishes this weekend. Finally, the use of extravagant and ambitious props cannot go unmentioned. The giant rhinoceros puppet is on par with the likes of the animals in the West End productions of ‘War Horse’ or ‘The Lion King’, and credit must go to those who must have spent hours on its creation.
Images: Dante Kim