Rhinoceros, the official production commemorating the Market Theatre Lab’s 30-year anniversary celebrations and performed by the supremely talented Kwasha! Theatre Company is a piece worthy of marking this epic milestone of this celebrated training institution.
Directed by the inimitable Billy Langa and Mahlatsi Mokgonyana of the Theatre Duo fame (both of whom are coincidentally graduates of the Lab), their directorial reimagination of this classic certainly packs some punches not only at how it puts focus on the absurdity of the human condition but also to some degree at humanity’s fraught if not precarious relationship with one another and with nature.
Written in 1959 by celebrated French-Romanian playwright Eugene Ionesco, this period-play-of-sorts seems to be a rejection of long held ideas and ideals of its time – it further suggests that conformity which one could argue has led to much human misunderstanding and suffering is not more important than seeking to understand the so-called other. The play through the absurd situations it places its eclectic and unusual group of characters finds further resonance with this time period in how it rejects notions of ‘us’ and ‘them’.
Poking fun and ridiculing well-established ideas of reason, logic, morality and philosophy, one could say that it is as relevant now and even more than when it was written more than 50 years ago. In our era of half-truths, fake news and hired pens masquerading as PR agents who not only manufacture and package ‘truths’ and sell it to the highest bidder, Rhinoceros comes across as a timeless piece.
Under the careful direction of Theatre Duo, they do not commit the fatal flaw of taking away too much from the original, but rather they bring the play into the modern era and have it address the things which for so long have been thorny and problematic – in one scene the idea of a cat having four paws is lampooned almost deliberately as an example of how what things seem to be might or are described as might not necessarily be what they are.
What Rhinoceros manages to do and do well is show the audience through how the discovery of the rhinoceros roaming around town serves to separate and create animosity between neighbours and friends. The sole preoccupation of the rest of the townsfolk becomes that of trying to identify whether the rhinoceros seen have one or two horns i.e Asiatic or African when more serious issues of survival need to be tackled. Contemporary challenges like race (referred to in the play as ‘the colour bar’) shows that Eugene Ionesco was indeed a playwright well ahead of his time.
Rhinoceros ran at the Market Theatre until 20 October, in Durban at Courtyard Theatre from 24-26 October and in Cape Town at Magnet Theatre on 8-9 November 2019.
Tonderai Chiyindiko is a part-time arts writer and contributor. He holds a B.A honours degree in drama from the University of Zimbabwe and a Masters degree in Applied Drama from University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa. He has been part and parcel of the theatre-verse both as an actor and director and more generally worked extensively within the cultural and creative industries sector in various capacities.