The programme for Trinity College’s 2018 production, Rhinoceros, states the college’s move away from more serious theatre to something funny. Perhaps the most studied piece of absurdist theatre in the world after Waiting for Godot, this play certainly is ripe with comic potential. The students at Trinity have, accordingly, provided a hilarious, madcap rendition of Ionesco’s work. Being an allegory for fascism, the weighty themes feel timeless and are boldly approached. At the same time, the production never succumbs to the pitfalls of imposing their own politics and instead shows great restraint. Subsequently, while the play feels lively, goofy and highly original, it retains the integrity and power of Ionesco’s writing.
The play opens on a street scene at a café, where old friends Berenger and Jean, played by Joseph Carbone and Vaughan Marega respectively, meet. The two have excellent rapport and play off each other with ease; Carbone with his laidback charm and Marega with a stern-but-collected demeanour. The dynamic is clear. Jean scoffs at Berenger’s old suit and Berenger gives a ‘fuck you’ shrug to Jean.
The whole cast feels confident and at ease with one another. Nobody feels lost on the stage and each cast member has at least one moment to shine. Director Will Hansen has embraced a freewheeling style and each performance is imbued with vibrance and joviality. The strength of the performances is matched by the pliancy with which the script is approached. The actors alter and adjust lines to suit their delivery style, which occasionally comes off as clunky, but largely sets a relaxing tone for the performance.
Unfortunately, Carbone becomes reliant on fourth-wall gags in the second act and can’t quite reclaim the energy of the first act. The play in general falls into a pit of in-jokes that can only serve sections of the audience. Still, Carbone, with Sophie Goodin as Daisy and Morgan Galea as Dudard, carry the late arc that transitionsRhinocerosfrom comedy to drama. Together, they muster the dramatic ardour necessary for Carbone to deliver the final monologue with momentum and determination.
The play is exceptionally funny and ridiculously watchable. The performers are captivating and work well together, managing to balance calamity and comedy without pulling focus nor effacing themselves. But above all, Carbone is the stand out in a play full of stand outs; his ability to read the audience and listen to his fellow actors shows remarkable maturity and potential as a performer.
Trinity College’s production of Rhinoceros is enjoyable from start to finish. It’s not especially clever nor particularly insightful in terms of dramaturgy, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s a piece of theatre that cares about its audience – a rarity in the university theatre scene.
Trinity College’s production of Rhinoceros ran from the 20th-22nd of September in the Guild Theatre.