heartBeast Theatre is staging French Avant-garde playwright Eugène Ionesco's classic absurdist play Rhinoceros in Brisbane's most unique performance space, the Spring Hill Reservoir. I had a chance to catch this lovely production on opening night.
heartBeast Theatre regularly stages events at the Spring Hill Reservoir
The synopsis of the play is that people in a cafe are shocked to see the first one, then possibly another rhinoceros charge past. Much debate ensues in regard to whether there were one or two beasts, and whether they were African or Asiatic Rhinoceroses. Of course, this really doesn't matter when the mysterious origin of the pachyderms turns out to be that people are turning into the animals.
Who will be able to maintain their humanity in a world where everyone around them are becoming beasts? Will it be eloquent and intellectual Jean, the drunkard Bérenger, the beautiful and kind Daisy, the sceptic or maybe even the logician? What will be required to maintain one's humanity or is that not even possible?
This production by heartBeast Theatre uses the unique and small performance space of the Spring Hill Reservoir well, immersing the audience in the story as rhinos stomp around the dark vaulted halls while emphasising the claustrophobic stage's impact on the performers.
heartBeast Theatre makes creative use of the unusual space in the reservoir
The production does a great job tackling a work that is both shockingly relevant to today and absurd. We as the audience must stand outside the performance laughing at how silly the characters are, while squirming in part because they can reflect a little bit of ourselves and the people we know. While the characters are talking about animals, they might as well be talking about Nazis, Commies, Anti-communists, Trump supporters or Pauline Hanson voters.
Generally speaking, the actors do a good job of working the space and the production means that we are able to look into the performance from any one of the 3 audience spaces. I would recommend getting in their early to get a good seat as seats are not allocated. But it really doesn't matter if you are sitting in the front or on the sides of the stage.
The small performance space in the reservoir is well used by the production
Brian Bolton provides an interesting portrayal of Bérenger. After all, it is a greater challenge for an actor to play a dull and bland character than it is to strut the stage with pomp and extravagance. The character must be looked down on, talked over and ridiculed without being a caricature. Bolton is able to achieve this so that you almost overlook his Bérenger in the beginning and pay more attention to the others around him.
Bérenger starts as a man who is struggling to be human without even the threat of turning into an animal. His body weighs heavily upon him. While those around him dress nicely and seek to develop their careers, bodies and minds, Bérenger seeks only to escape through drink.
The portrayal by Bolton makes him pathetic and malleable. How can such a man resist the urge to give in to the crowd, to heed the trumpeting call of wild and to, like everyone around him, become a rhinoceros?