That company is led by Benedict Cumberbatch who, in Ionesco’s satire on conformity, plays Berenger, a man whose entire world is threatened when herds of rhinoceroses start thundering through town. He’s joined by Jasper Britton, Zawe Ashton, Michael Begley, Paul Chahidi, Jacqueline Defferary, David Hinton, Lloyd Hutchinson, Claire Prempeh, Alwyne Taylor and Graham Turner.
In the Jerwood Theatre Downtairs, the plays by Romanian-born Frenchman Ionesco and the Swiss Frisch form the cornerstone of the Royal Court’s internationally themed autumn season. The International Playwrights Season runs concurrently in the smaller Jerwood Theatre Upstairs with five new plays by writers from Germany, Romania, India, Sweden and Ukraine.
Rhinoceros had its Royal Court premiere in a 1960 production directed by Orson Welles and starring Laurence Olivier. The Arsonists (then under the title of The Fire Raisers) premiered at the Court a year later, directed by Lindsay Anderson with Alfred Marks and John Thaw in the cast.
While overnight critics are self-confessed fans of Dominic Cooke and the changes he’s effected at the Royal Court since taking over as artistic director earlier this year, they’re less sure about the merits of Ionesco’s play, which some considered dated, dull and predictable – despite Martin Crimp’s “wittily amusing” new translation. However, there was praise for Cooke’s “exemplary” production values and for many of the performances, particularly that of Jasper Britton, whose physically robust, second-act rhinocerisation was declared the evening’s highlight.
- by Terri Paddock