Theatre Review: Elephant, Edinburgh Festival Theatre

9 May

With all life’s little misdemeanours you have to wonder how strictly that someone, somewhere is keeping tally on your heavenly scorecard. For many, forgiveness and redemption would certainly come in handy, as explored by Dodgy Clutch and Market Theatre in their pachyderm spectacular, Elephant.

In it we meet Chief Zanenvula (Lindani Nkosi) who, having passed away, makes his way to heaven. On arrival, Zanenvula is denied access by three angelic bouncers and decides to consult his ancestors to find out where he could possibly have gone wrong.

Encouraged to embark on a journey through his memories, Zanenvula discovers how a moment of jealousy and anger led him to damage the scared union between his tribe and the elephants. Although accompanied by the devilishly meddlesome Lucky Louis (Pady O’Connor), the Chief eventually sees the error of his ways in an attempt to redeem himself and enter heaven.

With cast members hailing from Newcastle and South Africa, Elephant is the product of a beautiful fusion between traditional African arts and contemporary and classical dance styles. Adam Riley’s almost non-existent set provides the ideal blank canvas for the sweeping, balletic movements of Annabeth Berkeley’s Angel that neatly opposes O’Connor’s jagged, tiptoeing Devil.

With fast paced, comic moments portrayed through flurries of flamboyant colour and unstoppable vigour, the live band deftly captures more sincere, dreamlike moments inherent to the magic of the elephants.

Gracefully floating onto the stage with an almost spectral essence, the sight of these enormous puppets is worth the ticket price alone, even if their appearances are few and far between.

Although set within a possibly unfamiliar culture, the pivotal theme of humanity or ‘Ubuntu’ is what makes this piece so important. While Elephant champions culture as the element that brings people together, the universality of human experience is what makes us more or less the same animal. An idea resonating from post apartheid South Africa but relevant all over the globe.

Review by Mhairi MacLeod

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