Show: The Elephant in the Room
Venue: Theatre at the Tabard. 2 Bath Road, Chiswick, London W4 1LW
Credits: By Peter Hamilton. Produced by Clockschool Theatre. Directed & designed by Ken McClymont.
The Elephant in the Room
High quality acting by a cast of eight, careful directing by Ken McClymont and a lot of humour does not save this bitty, puzzling, often incoherent play from mediocrity.
We’re in familiar nursing home/care home/retirement village territory. Think Richard Osman’s Thursday Murder Club or Alan Bennett’s Allelujah!. Ashley Davenport (Fraser Anthony – intelligently nuanced acting) is a young man from the upper middle classes who has inherited a fortune. Fresh from travels to India he has placed himself on a “spiritual path” and decides he wants to spend the rest of his life in a care home.
The scenes come thick and fast. First we get four residents in conversation – they are sharply drawn, talk in one liners irrespective of each other and it’s often very funny. “My first wife hid my bagpipes …” The comic timing is strong especially from Craig Crosbie as Johnny Copthorne, the retired second hand car salesman and master of dodgy deals. Stephen Omer, as a life long depressive pessimist and retired librarian, provides an enjoyable dead pan foil. The Alan Bennett influence is very clear and these are the best bits of the play.
Then, for no apparent reason we cut to the young pair in the kitchen, both illegal immigrants and suddenly we’re in a completely different sort of play – sad back stories and desperation for British citizenship. Interesting but it just doesn’t flow or follow
And on it goes on – over-long for its subject matter and full of anomalies. Why does Miguel (Baptiste Semin – good) the cook from Brazil, conduct a full communion service with hymns? And why, when he’s full of ambition for a future in a famous hotel does he suddenly take his own life? Why is the play so relentlessly condemnatory of marriage?
Surreality and symbolism are all very well but I found the idea of going euphemistically to the lilac room to die, failing to achieve it but coming back with helpful info from heaven an incomprehensible step too far. It doesn’t mesh with the rest of the play.
Then there are the elephants. Not the figure-of-speech sort. These are the eating, shitting, noisy ones. Ashley is supposed, according to his great-grandfather’s will, to keep one (Indian of course) in the library of the house he’s inherited but these days it’s allowed to live in the park. Just to reinforce this McClymont gives us a lot of projection on back screens of elephant eyes, hide, feet and finally the full frontal view with trumpeting. It sits very oddly with the quasi reality of the scenes in the care home although I suppose the elephant in the room, idiomatically speaking, is impending death. Maybe the play is meant to be about mental breakdown. If so, it’s a rather unsatisfactory vehicle.