Theatre in Wales

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Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru

Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru- Rhinoseros , Theatr Mwldan , November 25, 2023
Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru by Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru- Rhinoseros When “Rhinoceros” first came to Britain it did so with an impact. Derek Prouse translated it from French and it was broadcast on what was then Radio's “Third Programme” on 20th August 1959.

Jean-Louis Barrault directed and starred in Paris in 1960. In London at the Royal Court in the same year Orson Welles directed Sir Laurence Olivier in the role of Berenger.

It was considered that the play might relate to Ionescu's experience of his native Romania. He left in 1938 at a time when more and more of those he knew were coming into the orbit of the Fascist Iron Guard.

Ionescu's own attitude can be read in an interview he gave to le Monde on 17th January 1960 with Claude Sarraute:

“I remembered that in the course of my life I had been very much struck by what one might call the current of opinion, by its rapid evolution, its power of contagion, which is that of real epidemic. People allow themselves suddenly to be invaded by a new religion, a doctrine, a fanaticism...when people no longer share your opinions, when you can no longer make yourself understood by them, one has the impression of being confronted with monsters...they have that mixture of candour and ferocity.”

Martin Esslin in his definitive study of 1962 “the Theatre of the Absurd” concluded:

“If Rhinoceros” is a tract against conformism and insensitivity (which it certainly is), it also mocks the individualist who merely makes a virtue of necessity insisting on his superiority as a sensitive, artistic being. This is where the play transcends the oversimplification of propaganda and becomes a valid statement of the fatal entanglement, the basic inescapability and absurdity of the human condition.”

Theatr Genedlaethol's earlier production of 2023 had an impediment. Its source material as a novel rendered it an ungainly shape for stage drama. Steffan Donnelly's choice for the second tour of the year is an inspired one. In translation by Manon Steffan Ros it is not just theatre unadulterated; it is a view into a key part of twentieth century stage history and plays to the non-naturalistic tradition that marked Wales' own past.

The animating, elastic presence of Eddie Ladd in the eight-strong cast is pointer to that past. Donnelly himself made reference in an interview to Saunders Lewis’ “Yn Y Trên” and “Gwenlyn Parry’s Saer Doliau.”

The production has a sparkle to its direction, a verbal suppleness and physical fluidity across the cast which comprises Rhodri Meilir, Bethan Ellis Owen, Dafydd Emyr, Ioan Gwyn, Priya Hal, Eddie Ladd, Glyn Pritchard and Victoria Pugh.

Cai Dyfan is designer. The glowering soundscape is by Dyfan Jones. The action ascends to a powerfully unnerving sequence. Catherine Alexander is movement director.

* * * *

“Rhinoseros” was well received critically. From the Guardian:

“Eugène Ionesco’s absurdist classic warns that uncritical conformity leads to catastrophe, as one by one the residents of a small French town turn into horned rhinoceroses. Manon Steffan Ros’s Welsh-language adaptation transplants the action to a quiet Welsh village, and her programme note reminds us that the collective noun for a group of rhinoceroses is a crash. Both metaphorically and (muddily) literally, crashes come from all directions in Steffan Donnelly’s astute, lucid staging.

“As Bérenger, the everyman who resists the transformation, Rhodri Meilir stands apart. Incongruently listless in a world that demands a little too much pep, his is a striking performance of understated physical delicacy, soft human sinews against the leathery roughness of animal skin. As Sian, Bethan Ellis Owen carries the play’s absurdist logic with aplomb; there’s nothing more unreasonable than reason.

“Consisting of Dafydd Emyr, Ioan Gwyn, Priya Hall, Eddie Ladd, Glyn Pritchard and Victoria Pugh, this is luxury ensemble casting, and all are game. It feels novel to see Ladd cast in a play, but her physical performance – whether stepping over tables or as if violently turning herself inside out – is pivotal in expanding the production’s theatrical vocabulary.

“And it is very theatrical. Impressively designed by Cai Dyfan and lit by Ceri James, with effective sound design by Dyfan Jones, it is technically ambitious and assuredly cohesive. As the first staging of a canonical European drama under Donnelly’s artistic stewardship of Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru, this is a compelling and physically substantial stage work, and it is a fine production.”

Cited from the full review at:

From Nation Cymru:

“This is a rollercoaster ride lasting 90 minutes, deftly directed by Steffan Donnelly with the incredibly talented cast seamlessly taking the audience on a very rapid journey, from absurd humour to increasingly disturbing moments. Sound, designed by Dylan Jones – specifically the thundering stampede of rhinos interrupting the dialogue – is used excellently here to build up tension.”

Picture Credit: Mark Douet


Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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