Rhinoceros @ New Theatre by Ola Konopka

‘To become conscious of what is horrifying, and to laugh at it, is to become master of that which is horrifying,’ Ionesco once said. These words are a driving force behind tragicomedy – a form which became Ionesco’s favorite mode of presenting his ideas.

The idea of the play performed by the New Theatre is that rhinoceroses, who once were human beings, run around and cause terror in a small town. One by one, each citizen morphs into a rhino, one of whom turns into a rhino before our very eyes. Eventually, only two people remain people. Then, there is one left. His name is Berenger, and he is in the very core of Ionesco’s concept of opposing conformity, here identified with the noisy galloping rhinoceroses.

‘Rhinoceros’ is a study of human relations within a society; it is also a battle against human nature pushing us to the extremes of conformity; finally, it is a warning about the price of individuality. Who wants to be Berenger, the last person on earth?

It is crazy. It is absurd. A bit unimaginable. Clearly, Ionesco was not concerned about such standards of theatre as introducing , cohering action, or simply making sense. But somehow it does make sense. After the laugh comes the thought, and suddenly the picture becomes clear. This is the point in each tragicomedy when comedy gives way to tragedy.

The New Theatre takes Ionesco’s Theatre of the Absurd classic and invites us for a few-hours trip to the unknown. Director Andy McNamee begins the journey somewhere at the edge of daily routines and predictability (great coordination of simultaneous dialogues between Berenger and Jean, and the Logician and his friend). There are enough comedic twists, visual and sound delights to make us believe in this utterly impossible story.

Not only is Berenger a key character in Ionesco’s writing but also in the New Theatre’s performance. Played by Adam Wood, Berenger tries to deal with the situation and he perfectly manages to show both hesitation and desperation to remain devoted to his beliefs. However, Jean’s transformation into a rhino is probably the most memorable and impressive scene. The energy of Tim Watkins (Jean) combined with Adam Wood’s reflections gives a marvelous result.

However, the viewer can feel overwhelmed by intensity of the performance. There is not enough space for any tension to grow – outburst of emotions usually comes at the very beginning of each scene. At some point it is exhausting and makes the viewer unable to digest the action. Also, one can have an impression that comedy takes over tragedy, and that the only one to defend the ethical dimension of the play is Berenger.

Arguably, the Ionesco’s play is a thought-provoking one. Although the New Theatre’s performance lacks the right balance between the comedic elements and Ionesco’s leading thought, it is a fascinating trip to nonsense of the reality we live in, and it is highly recommended to everyone, especially those who think that Ionesco only wanted to make us laugh.

Ola Konopka

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