SLIGO’S BLUE Raincoat Theatre Company make a welcome visit to the Town Hall Theatre this month with its acclaimed staging of Eugene Ionesco’s absurdist classic, Rhinoceros.
First performed in 1959, Rhinoceros ranks clearly among Ionesco’s major works. It concerns the citizens of a small town who – save for one tardy and boozy drop-out, Berenger - turn into a herd of rampaging rhinoceroses. Can Berenger cling to the scraps of his humanity when the town Logician, Grocer, Humanist, the ubiquitous Old Lady, and even his closest friend Jean, all begin sprouting horns and turning a distasteful shade of grey?
A searing and bleakly funny study on the human nature, Rhinoceros is amongst the most striking and enduring commentaries on social frailty and group hysteria from the 20th century.
Rhinoceros is Blue Raincoat’s third production of a Ionesco play, following much-lauded stagings of The Bald Soprano and The Chairs in the past few years. However the company’s association with the playwright had a less than auspicious beginning, as Blue Raincoat director Niall Henry recalls over an afternoon chat.
“I used to hate Ionesco!” he begins as he outlines how the company first engaged with the Franco-Romanian author. “Then seven years ago Malcolm Hamilton was writing a play for us but we weren’t ready to go with it so I rang Jocelyn Clarke to ask for a suggestion as to what we could do instead and he came up with The Bald Soprano.
“I remember reading it and thinking he was nuts but then we re-read it and decided to do it. We had a horrible time doing it initially, we thought we knew how to approach it and didn’t follow Ionesco’s own guidelines about how to present it and we sort of missed the point of it all.
“About 10 days before we were to open we were in dire straits, it just wasn’t working so we restaged it following Ionesco’s suggestions and then it all began to work and the play subsequently went very well for us. So then a couple of years later we did The Chairs and now we’re touring Rhinoceros.”
Blue Raincoat have toured all three of their Ionesco shows nationally. Henry reflects on how Irish audiences have responded.
“Ionesco is unlike any other writer we’ve experienced,” he says. “When we get it right we get a great response and they become these amazing pieces of entertainment and considering how subversive they are theatrically and he’s very political, he’s always having a go at something, that’s remarkable. He’s very technical and you really need to concentrate on doing what he requires, it’s like riding a unicycle on a tightrope!”
Rhinoceros runs from Monday February 25 to Wednesday 27 at 8pm nightly. Tickets are available from the Town Hall on 091 - 569777 and www.tht.ie