Salient: Victoria University of Wellington Students' Newspaper. Volume 31 Number 19 August 6, 1968
Rhino not up to scratch
Rhino not up to scratch
I am afraid Unity's latest presentation—Nola Miller's production of Rhinoceros was disappointing. This political table (well, sort of) by Eugene lonesco, is much funnier than most (e.g. Frisch's Fire Raisers) because of its central theme: The people of a town are turning, one by one, into rhinoceroses.
The play demands clever effects and good acting. The audience's imaginative response to the play makes un-anatomieal rhinoceros heads unimportant; but unconvincing acting can only get in the way of the play, and it did at Unity.
Some of the actors in small parts were quite wooden. Others, namely Sandra Whitehead, Virginia Webb, Valerie Alfred, Peter Sim, Trevor King and Ron Lamont were varyingly adequate, and often most enjoyable to watch. One incredible performance came from the Old Gentleman, played anonymously; he had a deformed voice and overacted hugely, yet was fascinating to watch, absurdly entertaining and interesting.
As Ionesco shifts the centre of attention from the rhinoceroses to people's reactions to them, the play becomes arguments and dialogues. Thus the last half depends almost entirely on interplay between two people. In the last scene, during the long argument by Dudart (everyone called him doo-dah) and Berenger, I felt that neither fully grasped the rat aning of what they were saying, and so couldn't make the scene interesting.
Jeffrey Rowe as Berenger, the hero, was on stage throughout the play, and obviously working hard against blankness from some cast members. Yet he wasn't believably Berenger, as opposed to a pleasant young man saying the lines of a play. His movement lacked discipline and he tended to fussy repetitive gestures. Verbally he needed restraint and variety. His final speech hadn't any power because he had been playing so long at a high level. Mr Howe has quite a potential, but could be tempted towards protective mannerisms of speech and movement.
Janis Fraser's Daisy was pleasant, but to me showed no deep feeling Douglas Dairy as Jean has a stage presence no-one else had. His belligerent petulancy, as he transformed into a rhinoceros, was strangely convincing. I felt his metamorphosis was betrayed by lack of imagination in make-up, and failure of the producer to follow Ionesco's stage directions.
The set was imaginatively conceived and used, but had been so flimsily constructed, with doors frequently sticking, that the actors were hampered and distressed. The scene changes were long and not terribly exciting to watch, and the main acting area could have been lit better with more lamps. But the sound effects were impressive, and very much what I would imagine rhinoceroses to sound like.
There were some very funny moments in the play, and some parts were quite pleasant to watch. But what has been called Ionesco's weakness in construction needed a strong cast to master. And this cast wasn't endow with enough experience or ability, I am sorry to say.