'The Elephantom' – National Theatre
‘The Elephantom’ is a perfectly choreographed piece of family theatre without a dull moment in it. Performed in the round at the National Theatre’s intimate new venue – The Shed – the experience is three-dimensional and inclusive, with nothing hidden from the audience.
Ross Collins’ story is about the troubles faced by a little girl after she meets and befriends the mischievous ghost of an elephant, who completely disrupts the strict routines of her daily life. After an escalating number of mishaps provoked by her new friend, she decides to find a way to get rid of him.
In this adaptation for the stage by Ben Power, co-directors Toby Olié and Finn Caldwell succeed in developing the storyline visually without the need of any dialogue, creating something like a live animated storybook. The use of puppetry in a wide sense accounts for that, as the space itself is ‘puppeteered’, constantly and convincingly transformed into different scenarios with very simple means. One action follows the next at an ever-changing pace. The rhythm of the story is effectively punctuated by sound effects and live music.
A cast of six multi-talented performers are able to sustain the story and swap roles with remarkable agility. They perform perfectly timed dance sequences, involve themselves in object and body manipulations, and even become huge puppets themselves inside inflatable costumes, so they can attend an outrageous elephantasmic party! One moment they are in character, the next they are stagehands or invisible puppeteers.
The Elephantom itself is a lovable puppet, and despite being seriously troublesome to the poor little girl, one cannot help but feeling sympathy for its naughty yet cheerful character. It has a very expressive head and trunk, and a huge inflatable body that gives it a floaty, ghostly quality. There are several versions of this puppet, which allow for lots of play in the expression of its phantasmic nature, especially when different parts of its body assemble and disassemble.
This new production by the National Theatre is aimed at children but it appeals equally to adults, treating its younger audience with respect. It is an engaging and enjoyable piece of theatre that displays a rich palette of emotional colours, from slightly dark humour to the brightest hues of mirth.
'The Elephantom' by Ross Collins
The Shed, National Theatre
Director – Finn Caldwell
Director and puppet designer – Toby Olié