Theatre review: Rhinoceros

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International Festival | Royal Lyceum Theatre | star rating: *****

Sometimes, a theatre show appears that not only captures the moment, but takes full possession of it, and slams it straight through the goalposts of the time we live in. Murat Daltaban’s brilliant new production of Rhinoceros is one of those shows; and it makes a thrilling start to the 2017 Festival theatre programme, blazing with theatrical energy and wit, and a perfectly-controlled terror at what may happen next.

Co-produced by the Edinburgh Festival and the Lyceum Theatre in association with DOT Theatre of Istanbul, and presented in a bitingly brilliant new version by Zinnie Harris with an unforgettable score of driving, waltzing Turkish dance-rhythms presented live by composer Oguz Kaplangi, Daltaban’s production makes brisk 110-minute work of Eugene Ionesco’s 1959 satirical masterpiece, in which a “civilised” city makes a rapid descent into complete social collapse as its residents begin, one by one, to turn into rampaging rhinoceroses.

Contemptuous of humankind, these beasts are eager only to return to nature, and to charge about celebrating their own strength; and it seems, improbably enough, that the only human being resistant to the change is the hapless bachelor Berenger, who seems to possess an intuitive grasp of why being human might not be a bad thing.

On a stage cut out in glowing acid-coloured urban shapes by Tom Piper’s design and Chris Davey’s lighting, Daltaban’s superb cast of 11 Turkish and Scottish actors – led by an unobtrusively brilliant Robert Jack as Berenger – deliver a fiercely satirical yet passionate take on Ionesco’s nightmare vision, shading perfectly from the office absurdism of the early scenes, to the desperate defiance of the final act. And whether we are in the USA, or Turkey, or even closer to home, it’s hard not to tremble at the sheer boldness and prescience of Ionesco’s vision of how easily human beings can forget their humanity; and – eager to join the herd – become something else entirely, in the course of an afternoon.

Until 12 August. Tomorrow 2:30pm
and 7:30pm.