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Rhinoceros review at Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh – ‘stylish but laboured’

Oguz Kaplangi and Robert Jack in Rhinoceros, Edinburgh International Festival. Photo: Beth Chalmers Oguz Kaplangi and Robert Jack in Rhinoceros at the Edinburgh International Festival in 2017. Photo: Beth Chalmers

Eugene Ionesco’s 1959 study of mob mentality, in which the inhabitants of a town gradually start to become rhinoceroses until a single human remains, is a play that speaks to our current moment in more ways than one.

This co-production between the Royal Lyceum Theatre and Istanbul’s DOT Theatre sees Turkish director Murat Daltaban stage Zinnie Harris’ new adaptation of the text. With its lines about journalists and their flexible relationship with facts, and the nature of truth itself, this is clearly intended as Ionesco for life in the age of Trump and the migrant crisis – as well as, presumably, the political situation in Turkey. At times the rhino is a migrant, the other, a thing to be feared, but it is also a contagion, an infection, spreading like a disease, turning man after man into grunting, green-skinned beasts.

Robert Jack makes an amiable Berenger, the last man standing; a voice of reason in a rumpled shirt, he watches aghast as his friends turn. But Daltaban’s production, with its half-hearted surrealist moments and circling dialogue, feels laboured and repetitious.

It’s all done in some style, however. Tom Piper’s set is made to shrink, via a series of screens and platforms, as Berenger’s world gets smaller, and composer Oguz Kaplangi provides a live score of drums, bells and whistles. But as one by one people succumb, it feels a bit like being trampled under the feet of something heavy.

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Stylish, if laboured, update of Ionesco’s absurdist classic