Rhinoceros @ New Theatre by Damien Clarke

“Do you know the logician’s a rhinoceros?” The fatuity of this line reflects the pure absurdity of the play; such is the genius of Andy McNamee’s appropriation of Eugene Ianesco’s satirical political masterpiece ‘Rhinoceros’. Familiar as the intimate New Theatre has become, the stage was seamlessly adapted throughout the myriad scene changes via the most creative backdrop technique I’ve seen. The highly original charming animations establish a commendably blithe ambiance, while providing satisfyingly light segues throughout the scene changes. It’s impossible not to appreciate the skilful transition of 2D imagery to the 3D prop in the opening scene. Delightful application of scene animation entertained a Monty Python calibre of humour, most noteworthy being the calamitous charging rhinoceros fracturing the quaint French village serenity.

Impressive as the backdrop is, the most astounding element of the production truly must be the score. Angus McRae will plague your mind for hours after the coda with his jovial yet profoundly resonant accompaniment that is so aptly congruous with the plays satire. The massing tension developed throughout many of the scenes was ingeniously quelled with precisely timed, finely selected comic relief. Experiencing a herd of rhinoceroses stampeding from backstage toward the audience had everyone in brief hysterics. Any attempt to rationalise the unfolding events rapidly degenerates into chaos.
Although the whole cast was entirely convincing, Chris Walters warrants particular commendation for his adroit portrayal of the logician, managing intensely complex dialogue while maintaining total composure and consistency of character. “If two cats had eight paws, and you took six away, how many paws does each cat have?” The plethora of references to Schrodinger’s Cat and Socrates, as well as the double bind “I’m perfectly calm!” bellowed in the most animated fashion will keep the philosophers entertained, while the rest of us can revel in the comically perpetual rhinocerisation of Berenger’s world.

It is imperative to accept the unabashed absurdity in order to enjoy this play; it asks a lot, but returns in equal measure. The performance may have begun too strong, with over-agitated initial dialogue arresting any potential for gradually heightened tension throughout the ensuing scene. Forgive the slightly overdramatic introduction and allow McNamee’s Rhinoceros to woo you with its flagrant, animated absurdity; for the penultimate performance of the New Theatre season has treated us to what is doubtless near the most satisfying, complete and engaging production this year.

Damien Clarke

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