First-time directors Lewis Godfrey and Sofia Abasolo haven’t made life easy for themselves.
Deciding to put on Ionesco’s masterpiece is brave enough, what with all the turning into Rhinoceroses and all. But to cut it down to an hour and put it in the not-so-spacious BT – lacking the room for the orchestra pit, two storey house and twenty rhinoceros heads that the original script demands – is surely suicidal.
But all the more credit to them, because this looks to be a damn good production. The line cutting, although necessary, is unfortunate in that some gems are inevitably lost; but otherwise they have used the limitations to their advantage, experimenting playfully with what was already a pretty unorthodox play. The emphasis on physicality not only makes up for the lack of fake horns and grey skin, it’s ultimately more effective – particularly the genuinely spine-tingling finale.
One experiment had me worried, however, for the words ‘audience participation’ usually bring to mind horrifying sing-a-long performances of The Sound of Music. But fortunately here it kind of works. This is where the traverse seating – another risky choice – comes into its own, as the guy across the room whose eye contact you’ve been avoiding becomes one of a theatre full of Rhinoceroses. Still, don’t sit at the front if you don’t want your face used as a TV.
All this meant a lot was riding on the actors. Again, there’s little to fault, with a solid ensemble cast. David Ralf is very entertaining as the mouthy Botard, and mountains of praise are due to Arabella Lawson, who not only plays two men, but actually metamorphoses on stage – and does so brilliantly. Matt Monaghan as the lead man needs a little more consistency, but I’m sure he’ll get it by production week, for he showed moments of great promise and on the whole seems comfortable in his role.
Rhinoceros so happens to be a pretty profound and thought-provoking play, but don’t let that put you off. It’s not necessarily laugh-out-loud, but the production has done well to maintain the comic element which was so central to much of the Ionesco’s theatre. After all, it’s about a town full of people turning into pachyderms, and as one character says, ‘You’ve got to have a sense of humour about these things.’
Rhinoceros is at the BT, 2-6 Feb, 19.30