Rhinocéros at the Barbican
This season the Barbican Centre is to host to a multidisciplinary series of events dedicated to the memory and influence of Marcel Duchamp, among them Ionesco’s Rhinocéros. The playwright was in fact one of the many artists whose works were deeply affected by the revolution that Duchamp brought about with his unconventional way of thinking and working. Ionesco is known as a prominent representative of the Theatre of the Absurd, but his 1959 play Rhinocéros is far from being incomprehensible (exception made for a few abstruse reasonings which only lead to some very funny moments). In Rhinocéros, the use of nonsense is actually a clever device which makes the play’s metaphor even clearer.
A man, Bérenger, stands alone in his resistance to a monster in the form of a rhinoceros that comes out of the blue to threaten his quiet, ordinary life and that of his friends and fellow countrymen. One by one, everyone has to deal with the animal and what it symbolizes, either succumbing to it or facing it. The allegory refers to an undefined oppressive power that menaces everyone in one way or another.
Produced by the French company Théâtre de la Ville-Paris and directed by Emmanuel Demarcy-Mota, the play is staged to impress. A well-oiled machine, both the ensemble cast and the set are spectacular. The actors deliver an intense performance which is emotionally charged and physically challenging at the same time, with the stagecraft playing an important role in the success of the production. The remarkable scenery doesn’t serve merely as a background, but is an active part of the show, coming to life at the turning point of the play and building right up until the end.
Rhinocéros was undoubtedly inspired by the historical context in which it was conceived, but its themes make it a timeless play. One hopes the well-deserved bravos! shouted at the end yesterday came from an audience conscious that those fears exorcised by the production are indeed still as relevant nowadays. Too bad the play is on such a short run!
Rhinocéros is on at the Barbican Theatre until 16th February 2013. For further information or to book tickets visit the theatre’s website here.