Where better to launch my new blog Is/Ought than Edinburgh, birthplace of David Hume from whom the name comes, and what better way to start than with a review of Rhinoceros at the Edinburgh International Festival. I’m here reviewing the Festivals for the Catholic Herald, and will feature this production in my forthcoming piece, but this space allows me to stay a little more focused.
There are politics aplenty at the Festival, with views and statements from all over the world at this most international and oldest of festivals. There are over 23 shows, a count I take on trust from the erudite Daily Telegraph critic Dominic Cavendish, on Donald Trump alone. Brexit, independence and a host of political issues are paraded in places large and small within closer proximity than a political scandal.
Much of the political commentary is of the dog whistle variety, which simply reinforces hard set views on whatever side of the political debate one is. However, there comes along a show that hits the right note in the right way, and Rhinoceros is just such a performance. We don’t need lecturing or hectoring about (or by) Donald trump, Brexit or Scottish independence, to see we have been poleaxed in western democracy. Rhinoceros highlights the problem faced today in western democracy better than many an academic volume, newspaper opinion piece, celebrity soundbite in search of humanitarian status, or shouty “political” performance.
We are faced with a technological world inundated with communications from all corners of the world and at the speed of 24/7. Identities are being questioned. Modernity is being doubted. The economy is being battered. In such a world, where individuals cannot be an expert in everything, it is perhaps inevitable that people will simply take up entrenched positions rather than enter into dialogue.
This is the human problem we face. This is the problem Rhinoceros shows us so vividly, manically and humorously at Edinburgh. It is fitting it is an Istanbul company in partnership with a Scottish theatre doing this show - two ends of the European conundrum.
In the end, the often clueless Berenger, brilliantly mastered by Robert Jack, who stands in defiance and devastated by the loss of his friends and co-workers, who cries out for human fallibility against the herd.
Zinnie Harris, playwrighting professor at St. Andrews University (one of my alma maters, making me jealous I’m not still there), has adapted this in a thrilling and refreshing way for our times, keeping the vibrancy of the original 1959 script intact.
Murat Daltaban’s direction keeps the almost two-hour non-stop drama consistently absorbing, and the staging by Tom Piper and Chis Davey’s lighting was visually stunning. The bath scene where Berenger’s friend Jean, played in handbrake turns of power and subtlety (I’m running out of superlatives!), was powerful and showed the transformation into a rhinoceros in a believable fashion and with no tricks or shams, just all the tools of theatre used to the max.
The whole ensemble deserved every sound and whistle of applause at the end, they were each wonderful and endearing.