by Bekah Brunstetter.

Finborough Theatre above The Finborough Brasserie 118 Finborough Road SW10 9ED To 10 July 2010.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat 3pm.
Runs 2hr 5min One interval.

TICKETS: 0844 847 1652.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 7 July.

Elephants, and humans, never forgetting.
Most people have a hard time of it in American Bekah Brunstetter’s play. Harry the Elephant is in chains, facing death for having mown-down an American woman. Her son survives disturbed, stretches of truculence collapsing in pleas for help. The elephant invades his mind, and his bed for brief conversations.

His fond keeper enjoys Harry’s affectionate-seeming embrace till it turns into something less comforting. Just as Sunday School teacher Lily finds herself warmed by the attentions of a plausible dad, with his charming manner and model good looks, until his invitations turn out less than consoling.

Better by far to be Lily’s free-living sister, as loud of voice as Lily is quiet and abashed. But, for all her physical fitness, she’s running to avoid internal collapse. And even the seductive father is rootlessly mourning his wife’s death by elephant.

Such mismatches and dissatisfactions aren’t new, but Brunstetter whips them into an unChekhovian pattern with magic-realist moments as when, whether answer to prayer or mere bolt from the blue, an elephant femur lands on Lily’s bed. In either case, Lily’s nervily perky manner, always recalling her standards of respectability, is beautifully caught in Lorna Beckett’s straight-standing attitude, smiles of sympathy or pleasure nervously inhabiting her face, the voice always soft and honestly eager, whether teaching Bible stories or trying to marry propriety and desire.

With acting well-pitched throughout (James Russell creates the sense of an elephant’s trunk with the flexibility and timing of arm movements, raising food before choosing to eat or discard), Lily Bevan’s production finds the right notes of surprise, humour and sadness, while showing how strategically the script places each character – without ever seeming schematic.

If it does nothing for images of the “half-reasoning elephant”, the play makes clear that human glosses of religion and morality exist in a world where desire rages; it takes a child in a Sunday School class to be repelled by the idea of God demanding Abraham sacrifice his son, even if that has been sanitised into a pre-figuring of Christ’s death – one deliberate, reversible killing, in a world of misadventures with mortality.

(cast credits to follow).

Director: Lily Bevan.
Designer: Libby Watson.
Lighting: Christoph Wagner.
Sound: Emma Laxton.

2010-07-09 16:43:57

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