Mocking a Metamorphosis; Bewildered: Ionesco's Silly, Blinkered Townsfolk Are Unable to Accept That the Rhinoceroses Are Transformed Humans

The Evening Standard (London, England), September 28, 2007 | Go to article overview

Mocking a Metamorphosis; Bewildered: Ionesco's Silly, Blinkered Townsfolk Are Unable to Accept That the Rhinoceroses Are Transformed Humans


THEATRE Rhinoceros Royal Court Downstairs .....

Nicholas de Jongh

WHAT abundant laughter attends Eugene Ionesco's Rhinoceros! Dominic Cooke'salluring production of this Theatre of the Absurd black comedy - a classicallegory - was first seen at the Court with Laurence Olivier in 1960. Itreminds us how accomplished British actors are at sending-up Gallic pomposityand pedantry.

Ionesco's purpose, though, is deadly serious. In 1938 the Romanian-born writernoticed how his friends succumbed to Romania's fascist Iron Guard as if seizedby a contagion. He described them as akin to rhinoceroses. His play cynicallyviews the human drive to conformity and, perhaps influenced by Hitler'soccupation of France, an ostrich-like refusal to face the truth. "They're notfundamentally aggressive," claims Paul Chahidi's Dudard, as rhinoceroses runwild through the town.

At first comedy rules. How cruelly pleasing to watch Ionesco's blinkeredinhabitants of a seriously provincial French town when the first rhinoceros,unseen but thunderous as a Tube train, crashes into the central square. Thedamage to Anthony Ward's unevocative and underdeveloped set is an omen ofturbulence. Although townsfolk are quick to anger, outrage and anxiety, theytake time to reach a panicky awareness that the rhinoceroses are metamorphosedhuman beings.

Two scenes, one preposterously amusing, the other shimmering with black comedy,mark the process. …

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