Eccentric suits. Minimalist set. And everyone keeps turning into rhinos.
Adapted by Zinnie Harris and directed by Murat Daltaban, this co-production between Edinburgh’s Lyceum Theatre and the DOT Theatre of Istanbul has no sense of its usual French surroundings. Each piece of set, prop, and even down to the last drop of globular paint to simulate a rhino’s hide, was white. Costuming is a clash of colour, texture and patterns, but nothing grounding. A clue from the tech, then: a warm state to the back drop of Turkish guitar, with a brief Trump radio-soundbite to match the show’s promotional blonde and suited rhino (though not specifically cited in the play). A solid maybe.
As for the adaptation of the text, it is laboured rather than updated, and often clunky. It neither added nor detracted from the performance, but left one wondering why the need for an adaptation to begin with – the absurdity of Ionesco’s work holds a deliberate vaguery, making it applicable for the decades that have since followed.
In spite of the ‘adaptation’, the innovation lies instead with the performers and the set within which they play. The ensemble dynamic is close if slightly mismatched, but ultimately overshadowed by the night’s double-act. The camaraderie between the dishevelled Jean and the refined Berenger (Steven McNicoll and Robert Jack) is palpable, relatable, and ultimately heartbreaking with Berenger’s eventual descent into rhinoceros-dom. It is a visceral transformation of paint and grunts (albeit a little too controlled for obvious clean-up reasons). Jean’s realisation of isolation is particularly touching, having watched friend after friend leave him for the herd, his voice echoing out into the void.
‘Rhinoceros‘, Lyceum Theatre, EIF
Star-crossed lovers, a century from now, amidst a plague that never existed.
A story intended for publishing rather than production, Alan Ayckbourn’s The Divide debut is top of the International Festival’s bill. Proposed as ‘The Divide Lectures’, the plays are recalled entirely from the characters’ memories, each scene detailing the day’s events from that particular character’s diary entry, creating a play-text dense with past-tense and descriptors. Through these diaries, the audience is invited to experience a society where men and women are segregated – the men vulnerable to an infection women are the carriers of – and same-sex relationships are the norm. Ultimately, this the story of the collapse of the Divide described by the plays’ central character, Soween, catalysed by the joint-suicide of her brother Elihu, and his lover, Giella.
The premise is promising, with plenty of scope to discuss gender politics, sexuality, and societal morals through a not-too-alien concept. These discussions are primarily left in the hands of Erin Doherty’s Soween, who handles the archaic and colloquial blend of language with ease, carrying the weight of the text and plot on Soween’s personality alone. Truly, Soween is the only person worth caring about because she is the most developed character of them all. And as the play unfolds, so too does the logic of the world and, indeed, the play itself, leaving large loopholes in its wake.
That everyone takes to heterosexuality so quickly, or the fact that the plague is a medically induced procedure being completely glossed over in less than ten seconds of stage time, the biggest takeaway from either production is the question ‘why?’. Why was this production – a production that was never meant to happen – given the green light? Why was it not ok to use a recorded soundtrack, but fine to place a live choir and band behind a screen for the duration of the productions? Only time will tell with the revised drafts to come as it makes its way back home to London.
‘The Divide Part 1/Part 2‘, King’s Theatre, EIF