Wednesday, 14 April 2021

REVIEW: An Elephant in the Garden by Poonamallee Productions with the Barn Theatre and the Exeter Northcott Theatre

The Barn Theatre in Cirencester has been one of the successes of Lockdown with a string of interesting and well-produced shows from their venue. An Elephant in the Garden, which was filmed at the Barn Theatre during the third national lockdown was produced with Poonamallee Productions in association with the Exeter Northcott Theatre. Although it does not quite reach the creative and innovative heights of some of their earlier shows but it is a well-produced storytelling monologue.

Based on a book by Michael Morpurgo it is designed as if performed in a simple circus ring in November 1989 as the Berlin Wall comes down by Alison Reid as Lizzie who creates all the characters herself. She tells the story of her escape with her mother from Dresden as it is bombed by the Allies and they become refugees heading West in 1945.What makes the story different is that her mother brings a four-year-old elephant, Marlene, home from the zoo to avoid it being put down and it becomes part of the escape. Sadly, the creative team have opted for an Elephant shaped broken wall at the back of the stage and Lizzie’s stomping action to create the animal rather than a form of puppetry. A War Horse like creation would have added more interest and depth to the storytelling.

It places the burden of storytelling solely on Reid who energetically and enthusiastically creates Lizzie (aged from 16 to 60), the Canadian downed pilot they meet and help escape capture, the Countess who protects refugees and her own mother and the elephant. During the course of her story, she explores the attitudes of the Germans to the Nazi Regime through her Uncle Manfred’s passionate support for him to the Countess’s subtle undermining of the regime and the German soldiers they encounter dutiful search for the pilot.

Simon Reade has adapted the book and directed the play with Alex Tabrizi as Director of Photography and as with other Barn streams it has a quality look and feel. The setting in the circus ring limits the options forcing Lizzie to prowl around the circular ring to create the long march with limited props and we can engage with her challenge and emotions. However, without the physical presence of the elephant, we don’t emotionally engage with the creature in the way we do with Joey and his relationship with Albert.

The result is an enjoyable story of human survival against the odds, well performed and produced which falls short of expectations created by the previous productions from the Barn and Morpurgo but will entertain a young family who love his books.

Review by Nick Wayne

Rating: ★★★

Seat: Online | Price of Ticket: £13.50
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