The Elephant Song ★★★ Park Theatre | Jan 18 - Feb 11, 2023

Michael is a mental health patient who is obsessed by elephants. His psychiatrist has apparently vanished, and the director of the institution, Dr Greenberg, determines to find out from Michael what he knows about this disappearance. There then ensues a game of cat and mouse in which the not-to-be-underestimated patient teases his interrogator and the audience with various stories about what might have occurred. The premise is interesting and the interaction between the two is absorbing, but some basic assumptions of the play didn't quite ring true. It seems unlikely that a psychiatrist would disappear, leaving the only clue to his whereabouts with a patient, or that he would leave apparently incriminating photos in his desk to which a colleague has a key. If the police had been notified of the disappearance why would they not be the ones following up with the principals? Still, if one overlooks such issues, the banter is engaging, and we quickly realise that the real mystery is what are the causes that have contributed to Michael's illness. What are the sources of his obsessions and what needs are being fulfilled by the power games he plays with the institution's staff? While Gwithian Evans' Michael captures the manipulative surfaces and inner vulnerability of his character, the presentation seems to fall a little flat. For us, the mercurial charm that may have engaged his psychiatrist remained hidden behind a mop of hair and his elephant plush toy. On the other hand, Jon Osbaldeston does a fine job of underplaying the somewhat arrogant and harried administrator, Dr Greenberg, while Louise Faulkner succeeds in creating a suitably ambiguous Miss Peterson. We are never quite sure whether to trust her reading of the patient and the situation, or whether she has ulterior motives. With The Elephant Song, Nicolas Billon has created an intriguing small puzzle of a play that should keep audiences guessing from beginning to end.

Rated: ★★★

Reviewed by J.C.
Photo by Giacomo Giannelli.

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