Robert Jack

Rhinoceros

25/03/18

Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh

There are, I’m told, people who “don’t like” theatre. And, of course, those people are absolutely entitled to their opinion. But, oh, how I wish I could take them by the hand and guide them to the Royal Lyceum, where Edinburgh’s International Festival and Istanbul’s Dot Theatre have joined forces to create something I’m sure would change their minds.

I’ve read Eugene Ionesco’s Rhinoceros, but I’ve never seen it performed. And, in Turkish director Murat Daltaban’s hands, something magical happens in that leap from page to stage. This is inspirational theatre: at once lively, accessible, thought-provoking and funny. It’s clever, clever stuff – and, judging by the excited, enthusiastic buzz in the theatre bar, it’s crowd-pleasing as well.

Speaking of crowds, that’s pretty much what this play’s about; more specifically, to quote the Lyceum’s artistic director, David Grieg, it’s about “the fragility of the individual in a time of crowds.” Ionesco witnessed the rise of fascism in 1930s Romania, and this play – with bewildered everyman, Berenger (Robert Jack), at its core – highlights the unsettling horror he must have felt at watching his world change. And, of course, the timing of this production is no accident, with the rise of the ‘alt-right’ and the increasing polarisation of political debate.

As the play opens, all seems well. The sleepy French village comes to life like an animated postcard, all bright hues and exaggerated dimensions. Characters and relationships are quickly established, and there is humour and energy in the exchanges, even when they become heated. But the sight of a rhinoceros (or are there two?) rampaging through the town results in the first real tension, the first real rift.

As growing numbers of rhinoceroses appear, Berenger – a drifter with a drink problem – is horrified to learn that they are his friends and neighbours, that the townsfolk are literally turning into these braying beasts. As more and more of them join the herd, Berenger becomes ever more isolated, a predicament that is illustrated beautifully by the ingenious set, reminiscent of a Chinese puzzle box, shrinking his ‘safe place’ until it’s perilous and unworkable.

This is a truly glorious production, as witty and vivacious as it is prescient. There are some great comic turns, most notably from Myra McFadyen as Papillon and Steven McNicoll as Jean. It’s visually stunning, and the sensual, Middle Eastern-inflected music adds to the mood of transformation, with musician Oguz Kaplangi onstage throughout.

Seriously, grab a reluctant theatre-goer and head along to the Royal Lyceum tonight. You’ll be changing hearts and minds.

5 stars

Susan Singfield

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Charlie Sonata

02/05/17

Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh

Some playwrights tell their stories in straightforward terms – others prefer to take a more mysterious route, leaving you with several unanswered questions – and Douglas Maxwell’s Charlie Sonata falls very definitely into the latter category. And it’s all the more intriguing for it – if more difficult to pin down in a review. The play, brilliantly directed by Matthew Lenton, is an enchanting, magical tale that flirts with seemingly unconnected ideas: the concept of time travel, a famous fairy story and the era of Britpop.

Chick (Sandy Grierson), a hard drinking but immensely affable drifter, returns from London to his Scottish hometown when he hears that the teenage daughter of his old pal, Gary (Kevin Lennon), is in a coma following an accident. Chick hopes to reconnect with Gary –  and with his other best friend, Jackson (Robert Jack), but events keep getting in his way and he continually finds his thoughts shunted unexpectedly back to earlier, happier days at Stirling University, when the three young lads had no responsibilities. Jackson is fond of expounding his “non-negotiable” theories about time-travel. Chick is about to discover how negotiable they really are.

Pretty soon, Chick is back in the present day, hanging around the hospital, where he encounters mysterious ‘bad fairy’ Meredith (Meg Fraser), who is struggling with her own issues. Can she and Chick work together to release Gary’s daughter, Audrey (Lauren Grace), from her ‘Sleeping Beauty’ coma?

Nothing here is ever quite what it seems and, as the narrative switches effortlessly backwards and forwards in time, the scenes are linked by a commentary by The Narrator (Robbie Gordon), which adds to the story’s mythical feel. Grierson plays Chick with just the right mixture of vulnerability and intoxication – I’ve rarely been so convinced by an onstage ‘drunk’ – while the inventive production design by Ana Inés Jabares-Pita and the ethereal lighting by Kai Fischer, keep creating moments of real wonder that help to reinforce that all-important sense of magic.

This is a challenging but ultimately rewarding piece of theatre, based around – in Douglas Maxwell’s own words – ‘a fairy tale wish for another chance to make everything right.’ The audience’s enthusiastic response seems to confirm that this production has achieved its aims.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney